ALSO BY DARWEN AMOS A Vision of Time The Charlie Trilogy: Charlie’s Method Charlie’s Plan Charlie’s Vision A Gun

with No Bullets In the Dragon’s Gullet Burning Bern Intrigue in Geneva The Empty Garden Ballistic Artistry Captured Gun

AN UNLIKELY DEATH ————————————— DARWEN AMOS

AN AMOS BOOK Los Angeles

The sale of this book without the cover is unauthorized. If you purchased this book without a cover, you should be aware that it was reported to the publisher as “unsold and destroyed.” Neither the author nor the publisher has received payment for the sale of this “stripped book.”

This book is a work of fiction. Names, characters, places, and incidents are products of the author’s imagination or are used fictitiously. Any resemblance to actual events or locales or persons living or dead is entirely coincidental. An Original Publication of AMOS BOOKS A Pocket Size Book published by AMOS BOOKS, through Lulu.com. AN UNLIKELY DEATH Copyright © 2009 by Darwen Amos. All rights reserved. Front cover image, “Beautiful Sexy Girl Holding Gun” © Tomasz Tulik / Dreamstime.com Back cover photo © Olga Drozdova / Dreamstime.com This mass-market edition / December 2009 All rights reserved. No portion of this book may be reproduced, stored in any retrieval system, or transmitted in any form or by any means, mechanical, electronic, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without without permission from the publisher. ISBN: N/A 10 9 8 7 6 5 4 3 2 1 Printed in the U.S.A.

To my kids, Jules and Stephanie

Contents

1 The Murder 2 Reynolds Investigates 3 The Chase is On 4 Public Service 5 The Takeover of America 6 The Bayou 7 Homeward Bound 8 Showdown 9 Highway Battle 10 Phase Omega 11 The Wharf 12 The Federali 13 Tower of Babel, Part I 14 Tower of Babel, Part II 15 James v. Reynolds 16 A Piece of Cake

9 22 36 46 60 74 89 103 120 135 148 167 186 200 222 234

Chapter One The Murder

T

here was no plan. The secret agent, standing on the rooftop of the Sears Building, was at a loss. Ever since he had been hired three years ago by the government, he had been sent on various missions to do this or that. He remembered one of the missions in which he had to infiltrate a lair of an especially unscrupulous villain, finally cornering him in his office and shooting him in the head. Other missions, too, were filled with dossiers and folders which explained the various parameters. But now, he had no information to go on. He looked at the piece of paper the government had given him. “Top Secret,” the paper was labeled. He sighed, and opened it, to read once again the simplified parameters of his newest mission. “Go on the rooftop,” it said. “Further instructions will be given there.” He had heard of top secret, of course, as it was standard in his field of work, but this was a new level of ridiculous. More information from who? He 9

Darwen Amos thought of his superior, Mr. James. Could it be him? Mulling things over, and thinking of his family back at home, the agent lit a cigarette and began to smoke. It was an uneasy smoke, filled with apprehension. His lungs were filled with unease. The day, strangely for winter, was bright with the sun, shining with full clarity. This incongruity, rather than make him happy, made him nervous. He checked his watch. 5:00 PM. He had been waiting for five minutes. A heron suddenly flew swiftly across the berth of the sky, making a clarion call of death. He had come to associate herons with death in 1987 (it was 2009 now), when on a tropical mission a heron had flown the instant he had fired the bullet in between the eyes of the mastermind of a plot which would put two nations in danger. Savoring his cigarette, he let his mind wander haphazardly about the rooftop, reeling in the confusion and unease of the moment. He had never been a good agent. As can be seen by this fear in the moment, he was not good at keeping his cool. On the contrary, it was one of his weak points. Nervously he dropped his half-finished cigarette on the ground and stamped it out. He sighed… At that moment a shot rang out in the day. It came from behind him. For a short while the agent became a good agent. A picosecond before the bullet went through his head, he registered the sound. He started to make an evasive movement, but it was too late. He was dead. He fell to the floor a corpse. The man who had shot the agent smirked and turned back to the stairwell. With the smirk still on his face, he headed down and hit the elevator button. A few moments 10

An Unlikely Death of waiting, then a ding. It was the elevator. The door opened. There was an old woman inside, with a peeking cat, which looked at him above the rim of her front pocket. The woman, seeing the gun, opened her eyes in wide amazement. Seeing this, the killer thought fast and said: “What, this? Just a plastic toy I purchased for my son’s birthday. Nothing but a simple toy.” The woman looked doubtful, and made such a face informing the killer. Patting her cat on the head, she told it to calm down, for it was shivering. As if by instinct, the cat recognized that the man who was in front of him was a cold-hearted killer. As a result it knelt down into the pillowed recesses of the front pocket. “Yes…” said the man, “just a toy.” With this, he deftly threw the gun into the trash-can next to the elevator. The woman seemed relieved. The elevator door, about to close, began its integral motion. Blocking the door with his hand, the killer left his fingerprints on the inside of the closing doors. The woman, although she was mistrustful of the man, nevertheless pressed the “Open” button on the elevator. The man said: “Thank you.” “You’re welcome,” said the woman, as the man entered the elevator. The elevator door closed. The woman, who loved riding elevators, was heading back to the lobby and had pressed the lobby button indicating as much. Smiling, the killer pressed the button again, though it was already lit. The woman looked at him strangely. At that moment she took in the man’s features: dark, tinted hair, sunburnt skin, and the eyes of a dragonfly. In her mind she was already filing out the report for the police. The man knew this. It was a long way down, and they didn’t make eye contact, or hold a conversation. As the elevator went 11

Darwen Amos downwards, the man pretended to scratch his leg. But as he did so, he pulled up his pants-leg and retrieved the gun in his sock. He pulled it out and was about to shoot the woman when the elevator reached the ground floor. The door opened. There were hundreds of people mulling about in the lobby, minding their own business. No, thought the man, this is too dangerous. Once again pretending to scratch his leg, the man returned the gun to his sock. The woman, relieved, sighed in comfort and began to walk out. The man, who was still in the elevator, burned holes in her back with his sinister stare. They were bullets, not of the flesh, but of the future. For he was noting the facial characteristics of the woman even as she fled into the sea of people. He would have his revenge. Yes…he would have his revenge all right. Mary Gymnocat entered her house at last. What a strange man she had seen in the elevator, she thought. She had been sighing with relief many times on the car ride home. Speaking of her home, it was not much, but enough to get by in the hard economic times. Her cheap job as a librarian could hardly keep her in good graces with the many tedious workmen and butlers a mansion would require and yet, for her, this was as much a home. Taking the cat out of her pocket, she placed it gingerly on the floor of her apartment. She lived in an apartment, which was forty years old, like herself. The cat, mewling with undisguised pain and hunger, sidled over to its cat bowl, which was miserably, barrenly empty. He mewled in hunger. “Yes, yes, shut up,” said the bookish woman, adjusting 12

An Unlikely Death her pince-nez. She had required glasses as a child, and there was no difference now. With such aid she easily saw the refrigerator, which, like a treasure trove, held all the goodies a cat could wish to eat. The list was endless; ketchup bottles, sandwiches, you name it, if a cat would love it, it’s in there. But Mary Gymnocat was no spinster. Although she was well stocked with all the trimmings for a cat, there was scarcely a thing for herself. One with a pet must sacrifice one’s livelihood. Especially an unmarried woman…. Taking a glass and a carton of milk from the wellstocked fridge, Mary hummed a little tune. It was an obscure song, about an aging, barren woman, who could not find love. Seeing how this song was similar to the life of her, she loved this song and always hummed it, whether on vacation or at home. The cat had come to expect food along with this song, and he licked his lips in appreciation. The door of the fridge opened, and the librarian took a look. Yes, this fridge was well-stocked indeed. However, there was not much here for a human being at all. Taking a box of sandwiches from the fridge, she placed it in the bowl of her cat, and poured milk on top of it. However, her hands shook and the milk spilled on the floor. The cat looked at her reproachfully. “I’m sorry, Miss Piggy,” said Mary, “but I spilled some food. I wonder why?” Ignoring her, the cat began to lap up the spilt milk. He certainly did not cry. But at that moment Mary remembered why she had been so nervous when she spilled the milk. She had been thinking of the suspicious gentleman riding in the elevator car along with herself. Thinking this, a chill ran down her spine. For Mary Gymnocat, 13

Darwen Amos there was no place like home. The lapping sounds of her cat lulled her to a peaceful sleep, with no nightmares about the strange man. She never woke up…. The phone in the police station rang. A police officer, Officer Reynolds, picked it up. “Nine one one emergency,” he said, taking out a pencil and paper. “Yes, there’s been a murder,” said the voice on the other end. The voice was nasal and strange, as if disguised. The officer noted this fact on the pad. “I’m sorry, but you will have to stay on the line,” he said, pressing the on button on the police call tracer on his neat, tidy desk. “No problem,” said the sinister voice, “but what of the murder?” “As long as you haven’t committed one,” said Officer Reynolds, “there’s nothing to worry about.” “Oh?” said the taunting voice on the other hand, “what makes you so sure I’ve killed the cat lady?” “Hold on. Hold on. One thing at a time. Where’s the address?” “Now I don’t think I want to tell you.” The call was traced. A beep ensued. Heh. Gotcha, sucker, said the officer silently to himself. He excitedly began to write the details of the call on the notepad. “Yes…” he said to the other man. “a murder is tricky business. Why not tell me more about it?” The line was dead. On the other side there was not even the slightest breathing. Very unusual, thought Reynolds, as he put the phone 14

An Unlikely Death back on the hook. The only cat lady he knew, Mrs. Gymnocat, was dead: perished. He only hoped he would get to her before it was too late. Sirens wailing, Officer Reynolds sped in his black-andwhite patrol car toward the house of Mrs. Gymnocat, a residence he knew as well as the back of his hand. The sirens broke through the night with a red, devilish glare, as the radio of his dashboard shouted out the various protocols and info of the day. “We’ve got an APV…” “the AMC killler…” “Looks like the work of a master…” “Code red, code red!” “Officer down! Requesting backup!” Sounds like a pretty bad night… thought Reynolds grimly. He remembered the days of his old job at the desk when he had to respond to such calls. Guns a-blazing, he thought bitterly. It was the duty of a policeman to put his life at risk for others. But who was to respond to the distress calls of an officer? Except other officers, that was. Passing the supermarket, he knew he was nearer to his destination. Mrs. Gymnocat, something of a hypochondriac, had made many inappropriate distress calls to his station when she had believed that her cat was sick. Of course, annoying as they were, he would miss such calls from now on. Thank God for small gifts. Stopping in front of the apartment complex, Officer Reynolds pulled out his radio and reported in. “Destination reached…” he said. “Ten four. You are set to proceed. ..” said the voice on the other line, the police commissioner of the city. 15

Darwen Amos “Yes, sir,” said Reynolds, “Roger and out.” He slowly opened the car door. Withdrawing his revolver, he stepped out of the police car, surveying his surroundings. The place was exactly as he remembered it; not a hair had been touched. With his foot, he shut the door behind him. He walked up to the apartment door, went up the stairs, and paused in front of Mrs. Gymnocat’s door. He took a deep breath. All the police training of his past fifteen years had prepared him for this single moment. He tried to look through the eye-hole. Nothing. He knocked on the door. No response. Yes… something was wrong all right. His policeman’s intuition told him as much. All his years of training had sharpened his ear and made his eyes nearly clairvoyant. Removing his radio from his pocket, he reported in once again. “Officer 9949 requesting backup,” he said. “Once again, Officer 9949 requesting backup. Repeat.” “Response Unit A1 Tango,” said the other line. “Request denied.” “Roger. Request denied,” said Reynolds, his hands shaking in anger. “May I have the reason please?” “Code Orange,” said the other line. “Roger and out.” He hung up the radio. He ran his memory back to the police training days, when he had studied long nights for the midterm examinations with his police handbook. Having a photographic memory, he mentally turned the pages to the dictionary at the end of the book. Going to the C section, he recalled with full clarity the definition of “Code Orange.” It ran: Code Orange: a denial of backup request. Specifically used when there is no backup available. Ah, thought Reynolds, realizing at once the reason. He suddenly felt repentant for becoming angry at the re16

An Unlikely Death sponse team. After all, he had heard the various radio signals in his car, which had been requesting backup for the case of the “AMC killer.” Knowing this, it was easy to see that there were no patrol cars available to help him on this, less important mission. However, he could not but regret the fact that this murder should have occurred to him at such an inopportune time. Steeling himself and taking a deep breath, he aimed his foot at the weak point of the door and released a kick into the midsection of the fragile wood. Exactly as if responding to a soft touch, the board of the door shattered into thousands of pieces, scattering into fragments. The door was now open. “Hello? Anyone there?” said Reynolds. “This is arresting officer Reynolds. Come out with your hands where I can see them!” A scream rang out in the night. It was unexpected. His eyes pivoted to the area where it had come from. On the couch sat Mrs. Gymnocat, looking healthy as ever. Officer Reynolds, surprised, did a double take. It was Mrs. Gymnocat. Docile as the cat that was her namesake, she sat on the couch in the living room, with a basket of sewing material in her hands. Far from being murdered, she was well and alive. “B-b-but,” said Reynolds, “I’m sorry, Mrs. Gymnocat. I might have overacted. You see, I received a report…” He trailed off. “Of course, I see, I see,” said Mary vacantly. “Would you like some tea, or a coffee, or me?” But as she said these flirting lines she couldn’t complete her sentence. Suddenly, Mrs. Gymnocat fell to the floor. There was something odd about this fall, as if she had done nothing to restrain herself from being hurt. She had not put her arms akimbo in order to brace herself, and had suffered 17

Darwen Amos the full impact. Immediately Reynolds knew there was something wrong with that fall. Without even reaching for his radio, he rushed to the prone body and felt the pulse. Nothing. Mrs. Gymnocat was dead. Reynolds could only look on in astonishment. The cat mewed contentedly, unaware that the master of his life, who had been his only friend for his entire life, now lay dead only a few feet away from it, never to feed it or play with it again. But the cat, content with its small life, did not care about this tragedy. The crime scene had been cordoned off with yellow tape and evidence gathered in small and big plastic bags. Every applicable nook and cranny was examined, every closet searched, every surface dusted… to no avail. There were no suspects. Mrs. Gymnocat, though notoriously eccentric, had no enemies. Back at the station, Officer Reynolds was busy writing his crime report on the scene which had just occurred only a few minutes before. “A slow acting poison appears to be the cause…” he was writing. Suddenly a hand clapped him on the back – a friendly gesture, which cut into the black gloom of his thoughts like a butter knife. “Nice work!” he heard. It was his superior officer, General Stathem. “Good job on the case. What I wouldn’t give to be in your position right now, to have discovered a murder of all things! A murder!” he said, in frank astonishment. “In all my years of service I never thought I’d encounter such a thing. Why, in my forty years I never-” But he was cut off by a wave of Reynolds’s hand. 18

An Unlikely Death “Never mind that,” he said. “It’s not only the work that concerns me. What concerns me is that a person was killed. With all due respect, sir, you should think more about human beings and their lives rather than always think only of your next promotion.” Abashed, the general walked away in a sullen mood. Reynolds returned to his writing. Mr. James at the government office sat back at his business desk, observing his empire. For many years now the government had been sending out its various agents on missions so classified that not even the agents knew the true purpose to their missions, if there were any. Behind him, in a filing cabinet large enough to hold the classifications for four libraries, lay the secret details of the missions: something that many people would pay good money to have a glimpse of. Of course, it hadn’t always been about the money. Once, Mr. James had cared about his work. He remembered his youthful, idealistic self, at the young age of twenty, who had just been promoted to a lowly clerk at the government office. He had been different then, he remembered. Different from the uncaring self he was now. What he was now, this wasn’t him. Agent Taurus had simply known too much about Project Insignia. He had to be gotten rid of. Despite what qualms of the conscience a man can have, capitalism has the effect of moral oblivion on some people. Once in a while, just to see how the poor people lived, he bet a couple dollars at the horse races, though he had much more money. Mr. James sighed. He had much work to do. With the many men at his disposal, however, work was the least of 19

Darwen Amos his problems…. A bell rang at his desk. Across the speaker-phone, the voice of his young secretary spoke out: “Mr. James, an agent is here to see you.” “Send him in,” said Mr. James, lying down on his chair. The door to his office opened. In walked a man, who was not kept in the records. Though James’s secretary had called him an “agent,” officially this man did not exist. In all the various papers and folders kept in the metal filing cabinet behind Mr. James’s sitting body there was not one reference to this strange and elusive man who had just crossed the threshold. He had dark, tinted hair that poked out from beneath his baseball cap, and wore dark sunglasses, which clashed with his sunburnt skin. This was the man, of course, who had killed Agent Taurus. Known simply as “The Assassin,” no one knew his real name, except perhaps himself. “Come in,” said Mr. James. The man stepped in, smirking his trademark smirk. “Have you succeeded in your mission?” asked Mr. James. “Yes,” said the Assassin. “Then you shall be rewarded,” said Mr. James, taking out his checkbook and writing a number into it. “Of course… there is a slight problem,” said the Assassin. ”I am paying you well,” said Mr. James. “I assure you that I do not have enough funds to pay you better. But if you want to negotiate, may I remind you of this?” He pointed a finger to a folder of files on his desk. The Assassin immediately knew that it was his crime record, which was enough to send him to jail for life. One of the 20

An Unlikely Death conditions of this contract was complete immunity from prosecution. For his participation, his record would be wiped clean. “It’s not money I want,” said the Assassin. “but true immunity. I may be immune from all crimes on record, but if I am caught for this one, what will the previous crimes matter? A murder is already enough for a life sentence, and even if the previous murders are wiped clean, that only reduces the sentence from multiple life sentences to a single one. And… as you know, we all have one life to live.” “Yes,” said Mr. James. “how very true. One life to live. And if you’re smart, you enjoy that life.” Saying this, he lit a Cuban cigar and exhaled a plume of smoke. That plume seemed to have something of the ancient aristocracy in it. “Then what is it that you do want, Mr…” “Mr. Assassin will do. There is a man… a police officer. He is a lowly blue-uniform officer, but he’s going to cause trouble. Roger Reynolds, his name is. I want you to get rid of him.” The eyebrows of Mr. James raised in surprise. “Is that all? Of course, I have many assassins on my payroll, but the fee will come out of your check.” “That’s fine,” said Mr. Assassin. “Just as long as it gets done. I didn’t know who else to come to.” “Well, you’ve come to the right place. If it’s assassins you want, you’ve hit the jackpot.” “Thank you sir,” said the assassin, shaking Mr. James’s hand. “No problem,” said Mr. James. As the Assassin left, Mr. James thought, “Interesting… very interesting.”

21

Chapter Two Reynolds Investigates

A

lthough Reynolds was not a particularly warmhearted policeman, easily rounding up the suspects to any case without a second thought, here he had time to pause. He looked at the report he had written up: Police File 1249-HUUOJJ (Filled out by Roger Reynolds, LAPD no.9949) 1. Crime Type: Murder 2. Murder Victim: Mrs. Gymnocat 3. Place of Death: Meadowspring Apartments, Room 5 4. Autopsy Result: A slow acting poison appears to have been the cause of death. As he filed his long report into the computer, he realized that something did not sit right with Mrs. Gymnocat’s death. The autopsy report claimed an organic poison had been the cause… But why had the technician said this 22

An Unlikely Death with such a doubtful expression on his face? What had been the meaning of that expression, which he could still see clearly? He remembered back to his police training days, when he had been taught to read facial expressions. The basic course taught every officer how to tell the various signposts of when someone was lying. The shallow breathing, the shifty eyes… yes, the autopsy man had indeed evidenced many of these telltale signs. There was no need for a polygraph lie detector when a simple glance would suffice. That class, too, had also been about the signs of a man who was about to attack. The lowered head, the held breath. Often criminals praised Reynolds’s fighting abilities Of course he never revealed that he had a special advantage in predicting their next move. As can be expected, he was quite the successful poker player. Not many people could confess to having bluffed the officer, and he often came home to his loving wife and three children with a few extra dollars in his pocket from poker nights, with money to spare buying his wife flowers and his children ice cream. In short, something about that technician had been… how shall I put it? Off? Yes… off was the right word for it. He made up his mind. He stood up abruptly in his chair and began walking to the door, upsetting the cup of coffee on the table. “Hey! Where’re ya goin’! Your shift’s not ended yet!” said the familiar voice of his superior-in-law, General Stathem, with his arms crossed in front of his chest, his dominant mustache quivering with anger. “Out…” said Reynolds, “don’t wait up,” slamming the door in Stathem’s face.

23

Darwen Amos *** The location was the mortuary, ironically named “Good Life Mortuary.” The head autopsy technician, Mort Deathhead, once again read the police report Reynolds had filed a few hours ago. Autopsy File 8219-HKULJJ (Filled out by Mort Deathhead, Mortician) The Deceased: Mrs. Gymnocat Age: Forty years of age Blood Type: O positive Health: good Place of Death: Meadowspring Apartments, Room 5 Cause of Death: A slow acting poison appears to have been the cause of death. Everything was going perfectly to plan. Exactly as Mr. James had instructed him, he had fudged the autopsy report, to make it seem as though it were a simple case of poisoning. Of course, things were never that simple. Good thing the investigative team in the apartment that night had never noticed the signs of an intrusion. The open windows, the flailing curtains, other things not readily visible to the eye… in Mort Deathhead’s mind, things had turned out too simply. The police officers were truly dunderheaded if they couldn’t figure out what had truly happened on that night. He scratched his bald head. He remembered… That night, Mort Deathhead had been waiting perched from the apartment building across from the Meadowspring apartment complex, next to a stone gargoyle. With his blowgun in his mouth, and watching through the 24

An Unlikely Death lighted window of Room 5, he had waited until the perfect opportunity to kill Mary Gymnocat as instructed. But just as he was about to complete his assignment, something had interrupted. That pesky policeman, Roger Reynolds, had entered the apartment. Nevertheless, he knew he had to take his shot. Seeing his last chance, he had waited until Mary Gymnocat was in view to fire his poison dart. He hit the target right in the neck and she had collapsed. While the pesky Reynolds was calling the police, he had quickly changed into his autopsy clothes and arrived on scene, just as expected. When Reynolds was looking the other way, Mort had bent down and stealthily removed the dart from Mary Gymnocat’s neck, and dropped it on the floor, kicking it under the couch. With the evidence destroyed, it had been a simple matter of forging the false report… It couldn’t have worked out better. Today in the mail an envelope had come for Mort, addressed from the FBI. Opening it, his greedy eyes had counted out the ten crisp, new thousand dollar bills in the envelope. He counted them again now, standing above his newest corpse, who had just died of lung cancer, from smoking too much. It was at that moment when he heard the sound of knocking on the door. “Just a moment,” Mort hissed, hiding the $10,000 in his pocket. Out of politeness, he put a white cloth over the corpse he was now cutting up, and headed towards the door, opening it. Roger Reynolds entered, noting the expression of shocked recognition on Mort’s face. Officer Reynolds looked around the room. Everything was in tip-top shape, the coffins, the urns, and the crematory. A set of windows crisscrossed all over the room, creating a barricade of light. This light seemed to form a 25

Darwen Amos holy halo over the main operating table, on which a corpse lay, covered by a white sheet. Thinking of church, Reynolds felt a kind of sardonic reverence. Though in church people revered the dead, here the dead were treated as illogical, scientific experiments, without considering the human being that had once occupied them. And Mort Deathhead was the chief scientist, bloodstained coat and all. But it was not the surroundings he was interested in, but the caretaker of the surroundings. Looking at Mort, he said, “I’ve been looking over the autopsy report and, there is a problem I’d like you to clear up for me, if you’d be so kind.” “Why, certainly,” said Mort, offering a chair and sitting down himself. “Would you like a cigarette?” “No thanks,” said Officer Reynolds, “I don’t smoke. And if I did, I certainly wouldn’t accept a cigarette from such a fellow as yourself.” “Very wise,” said Mort, “Neither do I. In fact, this very man (he pointed at the cloth-covered figure) perished from smoking too much. Though I am a dealer of death, I am in no hurry to become one of my own merchandise, if you know what I mean….” Reynolds grinned. “That’s funny. You’d expect such a careful man to be more honest.” “But I’m sure I don’t know what you mean!” Mort feigned disbelief. “Then can you explain this?” said Reynolds. Mort’s eyes were lead to where Reynolds was holding up something between his forefinger and thumb. He recognized it immediately. It was the poison dart and blow-gun. Reynolds continued, “What should I find under the couch but this? I wonder if the fingerprints match yours? If you’re really an honest man as you claim, why not follow 26

An Unlikely Death me to the police office, and get your prints on record?” “Why, certainly Mr. Reynolds,” said Mort, standing up, “I would be pleased.” Reynolds was suspicious. “You go first,” he said, motioning to the door with his head. Then, time slowed down. At that moment, Mort’s head, like that of a bull’s about to charge, lowered. His slender fingers, so used to working with the dead, reached into his lab coat and grasped a scalpel. Removing it, he prepared to throw it at Reynolds’s head. But Reynolds was ready. Quickly removing his gun from the holster, he fired at the scalpel, blowing it out of the surgeon’s hands. The surgeon, in turn, charged at Reynolds, making a cry of a vulture, who moved out of the way. Not expecting the movement, Mort Deathhead sailed clear out the window behind Reynolds and fell thirty stories to his death. Reynolds heard the sickening crash of the surgeon’s body hitting a car. The car’s alarm rang out in the dead night. The sounds of a screaming crowd, quickly gathering, pounded in his ears. His heart beating like mad, Reynolds felt about to collapse. Holding his chest, he picked up his walkie-talkie, and called for assistance. The young secretary came into the office of Mr. James. “I have some bad news,” he said. “What?” said Mr. James. “Agent Mort Deathhead has just been eliminated.” “Dammit,” said Mr. James, cursing in his mind. He dismissed the secretary. This Reynolds fellow was a hard egg to crack, that was for sure.

27

Darwen Amos *** Who does the autopsy of an autopsy technician? This is a relevant question. Just like that old philosopher’s saw about the barber who cuts everyone’s hair in town, but has no one to cut his, it brings up an interesting question. There are always more autopsy technicians. But in the face of world catastrophe, there is no need for mass autopsies. These were the various thoughts going through Reynolds’s mind as he stood around the cordoned-off area where the body of Mort Deathhead lay amid broken glass and shrapnel atop of the car on which he had fallen. The twisted face of Mort Deathhead, gnarled in a permanent grimace, accused the night of myriad inequities. On the floor, a police artist had drawn a chalk outline around the objects and body parts which now occupied the cold concrete surface…. Curious passer-bys, their minds until then filled with the mundane facts of grocery shopping and overdue library books, now stopped here and there to gawk at the violent scene. From time to time, the words “Go on. There’s nothing to see here.” reported in the night like a revolving lighthouse beacon. “Sigh. More paperwork… always more paperwork,” moaned Officer Stevens, a peer of Reynolds. He nervously ran his fingers through his dark hair. Reynolds was lost in thought. Officer Rogers Reynolds turned in his bed, in the middle of a fitful sleep. His dreaming mind conjured up all sorts of distressing scenarios, which his police intuition, with its guard down, was powerless to stop as if he had 28

An Unlikely Death been awake. He was in a desert. Yet it was no ordinary desert of sand and cacti. No, this was a desert filled with water, swaying him like a boat on a lake. The feeling of sickness cast Roger to the shore, gasping for breath as pink fish flew on golden wings above him. And in the sky, surrounded by clouds, was the unknown face of the murderer. The murderer of Mrs. Gymnocat. And no matter how much he flailed his arms, no matter how hard he tried to swim to the face, that mocking face, he could not reach it… Just as he was about to drown, he woke up in a cold sweat. The next day, the police station was abuzz with excitement. Ever since the autopsy technician had been revealed to be on the payroll of the FBI, the extent of the conspiracy was revealed to all eyes. In general the FBI and the police are worst enemies. Whenever a police team tries to get something done, the FBI always comes in to take over, treating the cops like nothing more than errand boys to get them coffee and donuts. Once the FBI was implicated in this crime, this confirmed what many of the police officers had already known and felt in their heart of hearts. They felt betrayed to find a traitor in the mist. When the cops had found out that one of their own, police autopsy technician Mort Deathhead, had been in on the FBI payroll, they were very resentful. Not many even attended the short, perfunctory funeral that had been held for the technician, at a small plot in the cemetery. All the officers were at work on the Gymnocat case, poring over endless folders of information. In one corner desk sat Officer Reynolds and, close by, his partner Officer Stevens. Both were busy at work, looking through the 29

Darwen Amos folders. Officer Reynolds always acted on intuition and instinct rather than intelligence. In this way he was like a hawk relentlessly smoking out its prey. Perhaps such a tendency was what made him an excellent poker player. But when his deductions fell short, he always had his second-incommand, Officer Stevens, to help him sharpen his blade of reason. Although Stevens had been suspicious when Reynolds had told him of his suspicions, now he was totally with him. With the police file at hand, Officer Stevens was now planning a course of action which would lead to the person who had hired Mort Deathhead for his services. And, as always, Reynolds was looking over his shoulder, excitedly cooperating in the action. “Let’s see,” said Stevens. “It says here that Mort often frequented the Golden Bunny strip club on Redlight Avenue. What say we take a look?” “What’s a stripped club?” asked Reynolds with frank curiosity. “Strip club,” corrected Stevens. “It’s a kind of dance club where women take off their clothes. Only the lowest of men consider this entertainment, but as we are slowly finding out, Mort Deathhead can stoop no lower.” “Hmm…” said Reynolds, “we had better check that out. Who knows where it will lead, and what clues there are.” “Hey, count me out,” said Stevens. “My wife and kids don’t approve of going to such seedy establishments. Once, I went to a bar, and my wife went nuts! Think of what would happen if she ever found out I went to the strip club.” Officer Stevens pointed at his cheek, where there was a large bruise. “See that? That’s the bruise I got when my wife threw a plate at me when she found out I 30

An Unlikely Death went to the bar. I didn’t even drink! Only two beers! It’s not worth it, man.” “I think you’re right,” said Reynolds. “I’ll scope the place out by myself and report in. Got your walkie talkie?” “Right here, my man,” said Stevens, patting his back pocket, where there was a huge bulge. “You ever need any assistance, I’m right there. Just don’t tell my wife.” “You can count on me,” said Reynolds. “your secret’s safe. Be right back.” As Reynolds began to walk towards the door and was about to open it, he heard his friend say “Wait.” Reynolds turned around. “Be careful man,” said Stevens. Reynolds, with a hard look on his face, nodded in agreement. He would be careful. There was no telling what the future held in store for him. 9:00 PM. November 5, 2009. The Golden Bunny strip club was aflare with sound and color. Many woman dancers wearing only skimpy clothes writhed and danced atop the neon lit stage, as noisy rock-and-roll music blared through the loud speakers. Goggling men, holding up coins and dollars, tried to get close enough to the stage to throw the money, hoping to catch a glimpse of human flesh. The young strippers, who had come to Hollywood with high hopes looking for acting jobs, now made do with applying eye shadow with eyebrow pencils in the back room, constantly observed by leering men. The smell of corruption, like the perfume of women, was in the air when Officer Reynolds entered the 31

Darwen Amos fray. His eyes squinted as they tried to look through the bleary, smoke-infested air. Waitresses walked from table to table, balancing trays of drinks expertly on single hands. The officer’s eyes recognized many faces of smalltime criminals who he had once arrested. There was Billy One-Eyes at the table, drinking a beer, and there was James Hawkinson at the bar, the leader of the Mafia, counting his blood money… Yes… this was a dangerous place all right. No doubt about it. Sitting down at a table, he noticed a waitress coming toward him. “And what would you like, sir?” she said. “Nothing. I’m here on police duty. But perhaps you can help me.” “But how?” said the girl, her eyes opening in innocent surprise. “Tell me… do you recognize this man?” He took the photograph out of his pocket and held it in front of the waitress’s face. She shook her head, when suddenly a stripper happened to be walking by. The stripper, drawn to the photo the waitress was looking at, tried to see it, but the darkness was insufficient. The waitress, who was more interested in monetary tips than investigatory tips, left the two alone, walking over to another patron. “How well do you know the patrons of this place?” asked Reynolds of the stripper. “I know them o- hey! What’s with all the questions?!” asked the stripper. “A murder’s happened. It’s my duty to check up on all witnesses and try to solve the crime.” “Are you a police officer?” asked the stripper, chewing bubble gum. 32

An Unlikely Death “Officer Reynolds, at your service.” “Then I won’t speak to you.” “Why not? You might be useful in solving this murder. After all, we are both human beings.” “In my opinion,” said the stripper, sitting down at the table, “a police officer isn’t really a real person.” “How do you mean?” said Reynolds. “I mean that they are pigs. Have you heard of cops being called pigs? That’s on account of their ugly faces and greedy mouths, which eat the humiliation of others for breakfast.” Officer Reynolds grinned ruefully, nodding with a knowing expression. “I see you’ve met my boss, Mr. Stathem.” “No. Not only him. I mean you as well. You’re a cop too.” “No no you got me wrong. That’s because you don’t know me. My heart is as pure as any human being.” “Yes,” said the stripper, flirting with her eyes. “Maybe we should cut your chest open and take a look.” With the long, red-painted nail of her right forefinger she mimicked making a straight downward incision in the air in front of the serge bulletproof police uniform protecting Reynolds’s heart. For an instant Reynolds saw the sharp vertical incision, as well as the horizontal stitches of the completed operation, in a kind of infrared floating in the air in front of his eyes. Perhaps due to the lights and chaos of the strip club, the illusionary visual was almost tactile, as if an exquisitely thin straight razor had been drawn down the left side of his chest, opening a path for a neon river of fluorescent blue blood. The cold glowing blood of his heart was indeed pure at first but, exposed to the air, seemed to inevitably take on the many impurities and 33

Darwen Amos germs present in the atmosphere, and dim over with layers of dust, its flow stagnating with thick, congested time. He felt a sudden, poignant regret for his lost youth. He blinked. It was as if time had moved backwards in the short instant of the blink, rather than forward. The hallucinatory visual before his eyes seemed to echo in reverse, trace an afterimage in counterclockwise motion, then fade away backwards into the ocean of the night like the retreating phosphoresce of a deep-sea angler-fish. Realizing there were still tears in his eyes, he discreetly wiped them away with the back of his hand. He shook his head back and forth. “In any case,” said Reynolds, recovering from his lapse, “you’re a stripper. Did you know this man?” He held up a photo of Mort Deathhead, the only photo he had on file. Although it was not a perfectly accurate photo, as it was taken many years ago (for one thing, Mort still had a full head of hair), it would have to do. The stripper leaned over the table to take a look at the photo, though her eyes showed no sign of recognition. “I don’t know who this is, but then again, I’m new here, and not wearing any glasses. You might want to ask that stripper over there,” said the stripper. “Who’s she?” asked Reynolds. “She’s the head stripper. Perfect eyesight. If anyone knows anything in this joint, it would have to be her,” the stripper said. She pointed at a far table, where an older stripper was speaking to one of the patrons of the club, a young man in his mid twenties. After a few moments, the young man stood up and left. The old stripper, who remained seated, indeed had the bearing of a leader, standing a foot above the rest. When she saw Reynolds staring at her, she mo34

An Unlikely Death tioned him over. Reynolds walked over and sat down. Without greeting her, he held out the photograph a few inches from the old stripper’s face, asking “Do you recognize this man?” She squinted her elderly eyes, trying through her wrinkles to make out the photo. Once she had certainly been beautiful, but time had not been kind to that face. Now, instead of working for ten dollar tips, she was reduced to working for quarters. However, this had not reduced her eyesight, and she immediately remembered that familiar face on that photo, unconsciously adding to the youthful photo the years of time which had so cruelly weathered away at both their faces. “Yes…” said the old stripper. “I seem to remember…” Reynolds became alert. “You remember? Do you remember his name? Come on, woman, this is important!” “Well… I remember the face… but I can’t quite place…” “This is important!” said Reynolds. “Surely you must remember his name!” “Oh… I don’t know…” The elderly stripper seemed confused. “Try to remember his name… try…” insisted Reynolds, but she only shook her head in consternation. Suddenly an explosion rocked the strip club, sending an earthquake rolling through the solid floor. In front of Reynolds's eyes, the world seemed to explode. He barreled defensively to the ground, upholstering his revolver. The air was filled with heavy smoke and dust. Smoke and dust was everywhere.

35

Chapter Three The Chase is On

W

hen the smoke cleared, Reynolds observed the world around him. A smoking, giant crater had been blown in the front of the club, and all the tables, some broken, some still full, had been thrown this way and that all over the club. The dance stage, broken cleanly in half, looked sadly askew, like the sinking of the Titanic. The walls, covered with blood, looked like a postmodern impressionist painting. Strippers lay all around the club in various postures and attitudes of agony and death. The pained moans of the wounded customers, like background ambiance, served only to darken the impression that this, indeed, was a war-torn wasteland. And – like a bright insult, that loud rock-and-roll music would not stop playing…. His mind still clear, Reynolds began going through the police operating principles he had been taught long ago. His clear eyes going from side to side, he searched for the 36

An Unlikely Death cause of this action, the explosion. When his eyes alit on the crater, he immediately knew. “Trinitrotoluene! Of course!” he thought. He remembered the Latin name for the common explosive: TNT. Only TNT, also known as dynamite, Reynolds knew, could be used to such “explosive” effect. The smoke had cleared a bit. Through the crater he saw a shadowy figure escaping into the night. Standing up from his chair, Reynolds followed. He watched the shadowy figure retreat in the bright orange glare of the streetlamps. On foot, the retreating figure was outmatched. Reynolds thought back to his police training days, when as a young man he had ran many obstacle courses in order to become a policeman. He had been the fastest runner in his whole class, and had earned an award for being so. This award, over twenty years old, still hung proudly from his bedroom, in an expensive frame. His wife always smiled a chagrined grin when he inevitably pointed it out to houseguests, and shook her head in amusement. As a result, it would be an easy matter catching up to the “perp” and apprehending him. He stepped through the crater, almost tripping on one of the many rocks formed there by the explosion. With a single bound, he was out into the streets, his arm hairs shivering from a sudden exposure to cold. Taking a deep breath of the cold, vapory air, Reynolds set out after the suspect, quickly gaining speed and traction on the drying concrete surface of the street. His feet made a pitter-patter on the wet concrete surface as he chased the perp. He closed in the distance. Ten meters, 9, 8, 7, 6, 5, 4, 3, 2, and now only a single meter separated him from the suspect, still shrouded in shadow. Just as his arms were about to grab him and cuff him with 37

Darwen Amos handcuffs, a sinister black luxury car with tinted windows, which had been rushing along the street, screeched to a sudden halt next to the perpetrator. As if by magic, the back passenger side door of the car opened, and Reynolds heard from the inside of the car the statement, “Get in, quick!,” shouted by the inhabitant of the car. The perpetrator swung inside the car and shut the door in Reynolds’s face with a slam. The car once again took off careening in the street, its engine purring like a mountain lion’s roar. Reynolds took off running back in the direction of the club. Thankfully his faithful patrol car, still parked on the sidewalk, was unhurt from the recent explosion, only to be covered with a light dusting. His keys immediately found their hole and turned in the lock. Click. The door opened. Reynolds rolled into his car and grabbed the radio, saying into it: “Officer Reynolds calling for assistance! ASAP!” “Right there with you,” heard Reynolds. It was the voice of his good friend, Officer Stevens. Relieved, Reynolds looked around, trying to find that familiar patrol car of his partner, right at his side where he needed him best. “No, not there. Look up,” said Stevens into the radio. Confused, Reynolds lowered his side window, stuck his head out into the cold night, and craned his neck upwards, getting a wide view of the starry sky. His eyes met the bottom of a helicopter, hovering directly above his car, blinking its small red lights. The helicopter swerved to the right, and listed, revealing a view into its side window, showing the interior of the aircraft. Reynolds then caught a glance of Officer Stevens at the cockpit, working the controls. Meeting eyes, Stevens smiled and winked at 38

An Unlikely Death Reynolds. Reynolds held back a laugh, and shook his head disbelievingly. Officer Stevens gave a thumbs up signal, which was then returned by Reynolds. “Now… lets get ‘em!” said Officer Stevens. “Right!” said Reynolds, and started his car by turning the key in the ignition. The engine came to life like a roaring fire. Reynolds tightened his grip on the steering wheel, and took a deep breath, steeling himself for a chase. At the signal, his car swerved into the open road, following in hot pursuit the black car which was speeding away. He knew that just behind him, high in the air, his trusty partner Stevens was right behind him, watching his back. The black car sped along the street at twice the speed limit, 55 miles per hour. Reynolds’s patrol car, however was hot on its track. Ignoring the various traffic signals and stop signs, the black car rumbled and plowed past them, resulting in angry horns from frustrated commuters, who were coming home from a hard day’s work, honking all around. The patrol car, however, had its sirens on, informing in advance its reckless course, and was met with understanding looks, even receiving a few cheers. As Reynolds plowed through a stop sign he almost hit a mailbox, barely missing it only by last minute driving. “Watch it!” said Stevens into the radio. Reynolds took a deep breath, but didn’t let off the gas, instead pressing down harder to make up for the lost time. His knuckles white on the steering wheel, he knew he had to be careful. “Crosshair Curve Ahead!” warned Stevens from the air. Time for some defensive driving, thought Officer Reynolds to himself, taking a deep breath to steel himself. The black car handled the curve with ease, showing the full extent of its expensive pedigree. Budget cuts, howev39

Darwen Amos er, had resulted in patrol cars geared towards economy and gas saving, rather than performance. As a result, although it had cost $15,000, Reynolds’s patrol car had a harder time making the curve, squealing its tires against the wet concrete of the street, and nearly hitting a pedestrian. “Whew! Talk about a close call!” said Reynolds, wiping the sweat off his brow. “Ditto!” said Stevens in relief, his breath coming hard and fast. That had been a little too close for comfort. The buildings whirled past Reynolds in an ecstasy of light and music. The city became, not a place of survival, but a grid of lights. Zooming past the buildings without a second thought, like a horse out of hell, Reynolds’s patrol car was showing every ounce of its six-caliber engine, driven to the hilt by an expert marksman. However, the black car was driven by an expert getaway man, and the tangents were close in magnitude. It would all depend on who wanted it more. The two cars were now separated by no more than three car lengths. The road, too, had eased into a straightaway, making it all about the performance. Shifting gears, Reynolds informed his car to go at the maximum performance. He was confident. Yes, he thought, as the car approached its prey, I’m sure of my man now. Just a few more miles… Then, all of a sudden, as if in response to this, it began to rain. Officer Reynolds took a deep breath. Conditions were about to change for the worse…. The street was empty, but the clouds were heavy with the premonition of rain. The weather in California is often unpredictable. Sometimes, in the wintertime, it feels like the summer, and vice versa. And rain can fall at any mo40

An Unlikely Death ment. That’s why in this case there was some surprise when the rain began to fall, in fact pour, on a previously empty and dry night. The emptiness of the street was not to last very long. Even now, when one listens, he can hear a rumbling over the soft descending rain. It is the rumbling of the spinning blades of an approaching helicopter. And what is that sound under the rain and the spinning blades? Though one might be tempted to suspect an approaching lion, on closer inspection it seems like a car. Suddenly, confirming the suspicion, a car rushes by at tremendous speeds. The silence is broken, and California has won once again. In quick succession, another car zips by, then another. Reynolds gripped the steering wheel with both hands, the knuckles paling white with exertion. During the Crosshair turn, he had lost his sight of the black car. Raindrops began falling on his windshield with the sound of bubbling laughter. The rain beat the slamming tempo of a sped-up rap song in the fine, misty air, and Reynolds’s heart beat faster to make up the difference. Now the black car was about in sight, but what of the bridge that was suddenly raising in front of it? “BRIDGE!!!” shouted Stevens into his radio. The bridge ramped up with a beeping noise, as it angled upwards in a circumference of a hypotenuse. The black car, however, ramped off the created angled and landed swiftly on the other side, the sparks emerging orange from the contact, and scattering to the floor like a wasteful firework. Officer Reynolds, however, wasn’t so fortunate. As the ramp stood up in a straight line, the patrol car of 41

Darwen Amos Officer Reynolds smashed into it head first, crunching into itself like a soda can, a depressed accordion. “No!” cried Officer Roger Reynolds as the car scrunched up. Luckily, it did not scrunch up enough to reach Reynolds, instead stopping a few inches from his face. The sharp metal, if it had been a few inches closer, would have punctured Reynolds’s brain’s frontal lobe. “Dammit!” said Reynolds, slamming his fists on the steering wheel, which was now expelling a foul-smelling smoke. The car, however, did not know it was dead and, morbidly, still insisted on performing its technological functions, reminding with its blinking light that the gas was low, and softly humming a tune on the radio. Through the red haze of his rage, still seated in the driver’s seat of the patrol car, air bag deployed, Reynolds heard the running footsteps of his partner Stevens approaching to see if he was still okay. The pitter-patter of Stevens’s feet matched the cadence of the falling rain as they approached the car with worry on their owner’s face. Reynolds, however, had not escaped entirely unscathed. A line of blood, like a teardrop, had fallen from a place above his right temple, and was now coursing warmly down the side of his head. When Stevens had come up next to Reynolds, this line of blood was invisible to him. “You okay?” said Stevens. “I got to catch him…” said Reynolds, “Catch him…” “I’ve already called the medics,” said Stevens. “You just hold on.” “Did we get him?” intoned Reynolds. “Yes… yes, we got him,” lied Stevens, wiping a tear from his eye. “Now you just rest now….” With a dreaming smile on his face, Reynolds lost con42

An Unlikely Death sciousness. Just then the many medical cars were speeding their way toward the accident scene while, interrogated by the police, the bridge operator was shaking his head and shrugging his shoulders, unable to explain why he had raised the bridge… When Reynolds woke up, his eyes opened to the sight of a nurse staring at him through the X-ray machine. Next to her was a sight he had no intention of seeing. It was his superior of command, General Stathem, who was wearing a worried face. From time to time as the nurse explained something or other in medical terminology to the good general, the general nodded his face and turned once again to Reynolds with the look of an old, wizened sea captain, who now lay strapped to the hospital bed, his casted leg hanging from the ceiling by a wire, and an IV machine hooked up to his arm. “Get me out of here,” said Reynolds. “I need to get back to work.” However this mouth wouldn’t move and it sounded like so much mumbling. “Now now,” said the nurse. “Don’t strain yourself now. Get back to bed and drink a lot of clear water. And don’t worry about your work… for you today is a snow day.” “You heard what the nurse said!” barked General Stathem, his face quivering in anger. “You need a lot of rest! Don’t worry. Officer McDaniel will take over your case. A competent police officer, in my opinion. He always keeps the bottom line in view.” Officer McDaniel, in Reynolds’s opinion, was a brownnoser who tried to get on General Stathem’s good senses. The other policemen and policewomen did not approve of his philandering actions, but what was there to 43

Darwen Amos do? McDaniel had the power of General Stathem behind his back. As a result, McDaniel never had to say a word in his own defense. And he was always rude to the other officers, never even bothering to say hello. The obvious truth, that money and power, rather than human nature, would always prevail. Suddenly, the nurse left a room. A few moments later, General Stathem discreetly walked up to the door and closed it. Leaning over the prone and immobile Officer Reynolds on the medical bed, he brought his face so close Reynolds could almost smell his mustache. Then, in tones which stoked a true hatred, the “good general” began his speech: “Let’s get one thing, on the straight and narrow,” growled General Stathem, “you don’t like me and vice versa. So let’s stay out of each other’s way. Now Officer McDaniel is on the case, and will be until you get better. But seeing your condition, I wouldn’t be surprised if that were a very long time indeed.” “Why is there still a case, if the perp was captured?” asked Reynolds. The general scoffed. “Of course there is a case! The only thing you captured on that wild goose chase of yours was your sense of dignity! The perp escaped!” “B-but, Stevens said, Stevens said…” sputtered the other man. “Stevens,” concluded General Stathem triumphantly, “is a liar. And I have fired him. To make up for this, your pay is now cut. Your new partner is Officer McDaniel from now on….” With that, Stathem walked out of the hospital room, and Reynolds fancied he heard a snicker or two under his tomato-red face. 44

An Unlikely Death Reynolds was in a state of shock. He was so shocked, in fact, that he remained silent, saying nothing. If Stevens was a betrayer, what did that make him? When the nurse returned with his lunch, a peanut butter sandwich, Reynolds was lost in thought… As General Stathem was walking out of the hospital, a phone is his pocket began to ring. The ring tone, a piece of military march music, immediately filled the afternoon air, giving a zealous militancy to the rest of the scene. After enjoying the rousing music for a few seconds, the tall hale general reached into that pocket and removed his mobile phone. “Yep, General Stathem here,” said the general. “Yes, yes. I understand. Don’t worry, everything is going to plan. Goodbye.” With this, the secretive general was once again on his way. Mr. James had just finished his conversation with General Stathem. After asking him if their plan was worked, he hung up the receiver, content and satisfied. Yes… he thought, General Stathem was indeed on the FBI’s payroll. With a hypocritical air, Mr. James smiled, knowing his plan was near completion. If only that pesky Officer Reynolds wasn’t there…

45

Chapter Four Public Service

O

fficer Reynolds fully recovered from his physical illness. His emotional illness, however, was another question. The tears that did not flow down his face in pain flowed in plenty instead in the interior of his heart. If a bystander were to look at Officer Reynolds, and be asked to describe the man he saw standing before him, one would perhaps describe the various characteristics of the man standing in front of him as a normal, everyday working Joe, with not a care in his mind. In outer appearance, Reynolds was nothing more than an average construction worker, or an everyday man you see at the supermarket when you’re shopping for groceries. But inside his outer normality, Reynolds burned with a fiery passion for the good. And when he made a mistake, he was not liable to repeat that mistake, but try to make alms with the people he had hurt. He remembered what General Stathem had said to him 46

An Unlikely Death at the hospital: “Although we are a police station, and you were only chasing the criminal, you caused quite a bit of collateral damage with that reckless driving of yours. And although collateral damage is acceptable if the losses are less than the net profit of having captured the criminal, in your case, it would have been better if you had not chased the criminal because we would not have suffered the collateral damages and in the end you did not catch the criminal. A criminal is a criminal because he has a negative effect on society. And he only continues to be a criminal if he’s going to do more harm during his lifetime. Because you only need to catch a criminal because of his tendency to do more crime and cause damage to a society, if he’s not going to cause more damage to society during his life, and become an upstanding citizen, then what’s the point to catching the criminal if he’s only going to do good to the society? If the criminal is throughout his lifetime is going to do the less damage than the collateral damage caused by catching him, then why catch the criminal? You know, who’s to know if he’s going to do more bad to society? You’re only catching the criminal who is questionable if he’s going to do more bad. You’re causing damage which is sure as opposed to the criminal which you’re not sure is going to do more damage to society. This is all assuming the people that the criminal has hurt so far is not going to get satisfaction from the criminal getting caught, which is also good to society. So basically you’re assuring the criminal future success by causing collateral damage by catching him, because it’s the criminal’s success to do damage to society. So by the catching the criminal, you’re only ensuring that the criminal gets success. However, instead of the criminal costing money, in this case you cost 47

Darwen Amos us the collateral damage. For in the end, what is a police department but a business? What I’m saying is, is that basically in this case you are the criminal, and not him. In that case, what’s the point of catching the criminal? Of course, we cops look out for each other so we won’t put you in jail but I will force you to take some time off.” Although at times Reynolds and the Major had their differences, here the general’s words hit him roughly in the heart. He had indeed took his station, his police station, as granted. And without thinking of the consequences, he had always acted from the correctness of his instinct. It is a hard day when one knows that his instinct isn’t correct. And Reynolds, through no fault of his own, was finding out that very clearly. He remembered back to his schoolyard days, when a friend had borrowed money from him. Reynolds was the type of man, who even then made no scruples about forcing people to repay him. And when his friend had repaid him, he had already forgotten about letting him borrow the money. So it was as if some free money had been given to him. In other words, a happiness he wouldn’t have gotten came out of him forgetting to reclaim the debt. He also remembered the time when he was young and had accidentally cut a lizard in half. He was horrified at the time, but watched in relived amazement as the two halves grew into two separate lizards. Like that lizard, if he could make reparations, perhaps he could make a net profit, not in money, but in human nature. When he recovered, he called his friend Officer Stevens, who had not really been fired (General Stathem had simply been trying to rile up Reynolds to get his blood pressure high, looking for a fight) at all, and said the following message: 48

An Unlikely Death “Hey, Stevens, you know that car chase we just been through?” “How could I forget? I still have that bruise on my arm from when I jumped from the helicopter!” said Officer Stevens. “Well, it seems I might have caused a bit of collateral damage? Do you have the damage reports?” “Yes. I’ll fax them over right away,” smirked Stevens. “but if the boss finds out about this, I’m in some deep trouble.” “Good. I think I have some work to do.” A landlord of the eastern buildings which comprised a row of apartments, was in an emotional turmoil. Ever since the car chase had gone on, the collateral damage which had been wrought on his expensive luxury apartments was too much to be believed. Now he knew he would not have enough money to pay the rent of his customers. And since the damage had been caused by a criminal and a policeman, there was little to no chance of a repercussion. And without this repayment, he did not know how he was to live his normal state of life. However, there was no use in idle complaining, for he had the long job of working out the various reports for the many tenants who, not for long, still paid their rent and lived in the broken down, damaged tenement of apartments, once so luxurious, he now owned. But Reynolds, who had decided to make up for his collateral damage by helping fix the places he had damaged, now showed up in front of the apartment, holding a shovel and a bag of concrete. Apologizing to the tenement owner for his mistake, he then proceeded to get to work, 49

Darwen Amos laying up the bricks and filling in the holes of the apartment with the concrete. And the tenement owner, who had until then taken it for granted that his apartment was in no shape to be fixed, smiled in appreciation at the kind gesture. Waving a hand to the officer, he received a wave and a smile in return, though Reynolds was obviously hard at work, and it was a great effort for him even to smile. Reynolds, picking up his shovel, used it to put the final brick in the first floor, making it good as new. When other people, crossing the street, noticed the police officer hard at work, many offered to lend their own efforts to the cause. Nevertheless, Reynolds, saying, “This is my work,” waved them off and resumed his work once more. The passerbys could only shake their heads in amazement. After three hours of work, the afternoon sun was shining brightly on the tenement, making Reynolds’s muscular arms glisten with sweat and labor. The landlord, looking out his window, saw the thick arms of Reynolds glistening like a tree trunk as the officer, with only a tank top on, wiped away the sweat from the brow. When the landlord approached him outside with a tray of sandwiches and lemonade, which Reynolds accepted with gratitude, he was met by the officer’s claim that he would work extra hard to make up for not only the collateral damage, but the cost of the nourishment. The landlord, pleasantly surprised, returned to his apartment on the fifth floor. The apartment was finished, in a better condition than new. When the landlord stepped out to observe it, Reynolds was already gone, off to his next job at the Italian restaurant he had damaged during the chase.

50

An Unlikely Death *** General Stathem sat back in his office, the AC blasting at full heat. With a smile, he turned over the page of his newspaper, which had been delivered to him by his secretary only a moment before. Although he enjoyed doing the crossword puzzle every morning over a hot cup of coffee and pancakes, today for some reason he took up the Community Section of the newspaper and read it first. Spreading his legs on his desk, the General opened the newspaper, which made a crinkling noise like a crackling fire. His eyes suddenly alit on a small section, which had been printed with the words: “Local Officer Helps The Community.” Spitting his coffee out in a fine mist, his widened eyes skimmed over the section of newspaper, his eyes riveted on every word…. Officer Reynolds, the story began, has turned over a new leaf. Surprisingly after the damage caused by his reckless driving, this police officer turns out to be good on his word! The people of the city can expect more events such as these from the other officers in the stations, as it seems to have turned over a new leaf. Continued on Page 7… The gist of the short story was that Officer Reynolds, one of his officers, had been doing a lot of community work on his off days, putting in the bricks of the ramshackle sections of Redlight Avenue, and repairing an apartment tenement and an Italian restaurant to even better than how they were before. At first, outraged, Stathem’s eyes had turned sharp. Nevertheless, in a moment his mind was already forming a plan to use this to his advantage. His eyes softened. The police station had always had a reputation for being unwilling to help people in 51

Darwen Amos need, but politically, this story might be just what was needed to rescue the police’s Bad Samaritan reputation. Already General Stathem’s mind was hard at work formulating a course of action… a course of action which included the rehiring of this fired agent of his, who had now proved himself to be a publicity asset. Reynolds put away his shovel, wiping the sweat that was now coursing down his brow. His hands covered with concrete, he had just finished completing the work on the Italian restaurant, which was now shining like a newly built construction. Sighing with relief, he began to eat the large plate of spaghetti and meatballs, complete with Parmesan cheese, the owner of the restaurant had provided to him pro bono. Just when he had finished his shabby meal, and was about to go back to work, his walkie talkie began to ring. “Hello?” said Reynolds, answering the call. “It’s General Stathem,” Reynolds received, with his characteristic gruff voice. “I order you to come into the station, soldier, for there is something I want to say you.” “Oh yeah? And what’s that?” asked Officer Roger Reynolds warily. “You’re hired again. I took Officer McDaniel off the case. From now on, Officer Stevens is reinstated as your partner.” “Why all the good news?” “Hey, thems the breaks,” chuckled General Stathem, “if you don’t want to look a gift horse in the mouth, you’d better come in before I change my mind.” With that, he burst into laughter. Surprised by General Stathem’s rare joke, because he 52

An Unlikely Death was not ordinarily a humorous man, a suspicion formed in Reynolds’s mind. What could he want…? thought Reynolds. But he was in too bad of a position to be arguing with a gift. Still suspicious, he decided to come in to work the next day after all. The police station was not as busy as usual. Except for a few calls about traffic tickets and the like, there had been no important emergency calls on the line. The various police officers sat at their desks, hardly able to constrict their yawns at the inactivity which had now beset them. Police officers are an energetic sort, and without daily exercise cannot go on living. The fans whirled about at each desk, drying the cool sweat that had now formed on the brows of the officers. General Stathem, in his office, yawned as the hot sweltering heat of the summer bore down on him, making him idle. Fortunately for these officers, something exciting was about to take place in that station. And if you wait…yes, now, you would be able to see the front door of the police station opening and, a familiar face, that of Officer Reynolds, in plain clothes, entering the station. All eyes turned on this deposed officer, who they had not expected to see. Indeed, there was no need to expect this officer at the moment. Only a few days in the past the various officers of the station had huddled in a corner to read the bulletin board, where the message that Officer Reynolds had been fired still stood. When Reynolds walked in, it was as though a ghost of their dead friend had entered the room. A chill ran through that room, immediately rendering the still whirling fans into useless paperweights. Then it happened. Reynolds walked in. All heads in the 53

Darwen Amos room turned, like magnets, to the charismatic man who was now walking through the door. General Stathem, with a look of surprise, jumped from his seat. Reynolds, confidently, threw open the door to General Stathem’s private, second floor office, and walked in. “So, what do you want?” said Stathem. “You tell me,” said Reynolds. “It’s your game I’m playing…” “I’ve heard about your recent escapade in the neighborhood,” said Stathem, “why don’t you tell me more about it?” “So I helped out some people in need. What of it?” “It seems,” said General Stathem, removing a sheaf of files from his drawer folder. “that your charity has given us a bit of a bulkhead on the amount of damage this department’s allowed to cause! Rather than costing us money in catching criminals, by making reparations you instead gave us money to be allowed to cause extra collateral damage. As far as I’m concerned, if this is the trend you plan to follow, you’re back on the case!” “All this… for something I did out of a need to make alms, rather than repay my debts?” “That’s right. And that’s just the kind of publicity the LAPD needs. From now on, you’re my secondhand man!” “What about McDaniel?” “McDaniel is yesterday’s news.” “Hmm… if I do as you say, can I come back on the case?” “As far as I’m concerned, yes. You can pick up your badge tomorrow, at the policeman’s ball.” “Thank you sir.” And with that, the conversation was over. 54

An Unlikely Death *** The policeman’s ball was abuzz with conversation about Officer Reynolds’s sudden change of heart. The large hotel ballroom, adorned with a glass chandelier, had been laid out with the settings for a feast. A few meters from the dining area, was a roped-off zone for dancing. It was a splendid event. Ladies and gentlemen of the realm, sipping their aperitifs, gossiped wildly about the possible meanings of that sudden about-face of Reynolds. Had he got a new mistress? Or perhaps his son was sent into an army? And such a nice boy he was! And so on. Such chatter filled the air of the luxurious hotel ballroom at which policemen, dressed to the nines, circled each other in slow, expert dances while a swing band played on. The smell of iodine, rising from the arranged shrimp cocktail platter on the main table, rose up to meet the party guests. “Do pass my compliments on to the party planner,” said a commodore to the butler, “This soirée is to die for!” “Yes sir,” said the butler, cool as ice. Then, the doorbell rang, announcing the next guest. It was Officer Reynolds. “Psst…” whispered one of the ladies of manner, “here he comes now!” “I fancy him!” hissed another lady, sipping an aperitif. The door to the ballroom opened as Officer Reynolds appeared, decked out in the highest possible color police uniform, red, with a aluminum foil sword at his side. And proudly, by his side, was the general, looking pleased as punch to be there, acting the marginal part of best friend to the newly famous officer. 55

Darwen Amos The question then was whether the General needed to give the party-goers any hints at all, as to who this dashing young man was. He had all the cards in hand. If he made an effort to promote Officer Reynolds he wouldn't be able to grab them right away, since they would assume he was exaggerating the officer’s good deeds, but if he said nothing they wouldn’t be able to keep up with the other aces he had waiting in hand. If he was probably going to win them over anyway, why give them that chance to steal that possibility from him, as remote as it might be? He remained silent, and bathed in the accolades of his newfound “friend”…. Following the general’s commands, Officer Reynolds commingled with the ladies and gentlemen, charming them over with his easy speech and free knowledge of all the hot topics of the day: politics, sports, you name it, Officer Reynolds knew it all (In truth, the General had taken some hours before this party had started, ignoring the various calls to the station, to catch Reynolds up on all the hot topics. In return, Reynolds would get his job back). Officer Reynolds was, unwittingly, doing a good job buttering up the patrons of the party for the general’s plan to succeed. Thinking this, the General lit a Cuban cigar, savoring the sweet sensation of smoke as it coursed through his lungs. The dinner began. It was a charity dinner, so each patron had to pay twice as much as the dinner actually cost. Of course, they were rich enough to afford it. The fools… thought General Stathem. They don’t know that the extra money won’t really be going to charity and instead is going to be lining my own pockets… Charity is just a hypocrisy provided by the top one percent of the richest. If one wants to help the homeless, it’s better to give them food instead of money, because it’s 56

An Unlikely Death their inability to spend money that got them to where they are in the first place. There was laughter all around. At each table, if one looked around, you could see people either laughing at a particular charming joke told by Officer Reynolds, or if they were too far away to hear, disappointedly wishing they were close enough to hear the joke. The time seemed correct. Hitting his spoon on the wine glass, the General called the attention of the partygoers. Conversation stopped short, and all eyes were turned on the general. The general, proud of the effect he had created, stood up and began his speech: “Now that you party attendants have enjoyed the good company of my prodigy, it’s time that you did a favor for me in return. Election day is only a few days away. Now, I don’t know what propositions and bills you hope to be voting on, and I certainly don’t care. America’s a free country, and you can vote for what you want. The constitution has always said the power is to the people. But on Proposition A37, I implore you to vote yes. In truth, this is not a suggestion, but an order. For if you want to enjoy the company of Officer Reynolds any longer, you must vote yes on this proposition.” There was a loud gasp through the hushed crowd. General Stathem suddenly pointed his gun at Officer Reynolds’s temple. “Yes… if you don’t vote for Proposition A37, I don’t think you’ll be able to enjoy his company much longer….” The crowd weighed its mind. If voting against the proposition meant a murder, especially a murder of someone they deeply cared for, what law would be bad enough that it wouldn’t be worth saving a life? And even if the law was kind of bad for society, it wouldn’t even be pro57

Darwen Amos posed to be voted on unless it was at least somewhat reasonable. Although the General’s action was reprehensible, he would certainly lose his job and go to jail for this action he was committing right now. And in that case, what was the point of opposing him? Why couldn’t they just pretend that they were going to vote for the proposition and, when the time came, not vote for it. After all, it wasn’t as if the general was going to monitor every voting booth come election day and shoot Reynolds if they didn’t vote for it. He would probably still be in jail at that point. So the best thing was probably just to pretend that they were going to vote for it now, and when the time came actually make the decision, after weighing the issue on both sides, whether or not to vote for it. And if the General, who was a bad guy, wanted people to vote for it, it probably wasn’t even that good of a proposition. Actually, in a way the general was hurting his own cause because now, even people who would have normally voted for it now were less likely to vote for it. So in this case, there was really no disadvantage to, for now, say that they were voting for it, and later change their mind or not, depending on what happened. Thinking this, the crowd nodded their head in agreement. A wide smile crossed the General’s face. During this time, Officer Reynolds had went through the same thought process, speeded up due to the fact that there was a gun pointed at his head. And of course, he also knew that the crowd would probably do as they were planning to do. But something was off. The general was a smart man. He would be able to see the fatal flaw in the plan. Something just didn’t make sense…. “Well!” said General Stathem. “So everything is all well and ends well. But I’m afraid I didn’t exactly tell you 58

An Unlikely Death the whole truth. Voting day is not a few days away as I’ve said. In fact it is today. Soldiers! Forward March!” The doors of the ballroom suddenly flew open. A line of armored soldiers, carrying an assortment of voting booths, arrived, filed in, and began setting the booths down one by one on the floor. Pointing their guns at the party-goers, they ushered them into a single line and into the voting booths. Guns pointed, they made sure that the voters, one by one, voted for Proposition A37. If they did not, Reynolds would take a bullet in the head…. Reynolds grit his teeth in anger. The people who were now voting for A37 were the cream of the crop in LA. As a result, their votes would count more than normal. Without even calculating it, he knew that the proposition would be passed. He was quivering in anger as the general’s gun pointed at him. Crying voters in hysterics marked off “yes” on the ballot against their will. And this mockery of democracy, to the militaristic mind of the general, made him smile in satisfaction. Reynolds suddenly remembered what Proposition A37 entailed: “Police officers cannot be prosecuted for any crimes. The FBI is now in control of the state government….” He suddenly realized the genius of the general’s plan. Even if what he was doing right now was against the law, and he was put in jail, when the proposition took effect, he would be freed, due to the stipulation that police officers could not be persecuted. It was a plan as perfect as a triangulagram. This was plain as day. But what of the FBI gaining full power over all governments? What was the point of getting the proposition voted in if it was simply not to be prosecuted for the crime he committed to get it voted in? How did this help the general? He wondered… What was the general planning?… 59

Chapter Five The Takeover of America

R

eynolds wondered if, according to the police manual, he should try to disarm General Stathem by kicking the gun out his hand. However, General Stathem, though he was not the fighter he once used to be, surely expected Reynolds to do things “by the book.” As a result, it would be more surprising if he tried something else… something a little outside of the box shall we say. Reynolds took a deep breath, steeling himself for his next move. Even in chaos there was order. But just as he was about to do something, General Stathem, perhaps sensing this, raised his right palm, saying, “I think that’s enough voting for today. It should be enough that there is ensured the possibility of the proposition being voted in.” For the first time, Reynolds’s habit of thinking things through before acting had cost him dearly. It was too late…. 60

An Unlikely Death *** The Proposition A37 was voted in. The written motion, that the FBI was now the regular government, was enacted into the law by a deliberative body. The House of Legislature, surprised that the law, which they had taken as granted would not be accepted, had come into effect, shook their heads in amazement. As the House of Legislature were loudly arguing about what to do, there was a loud rap-tap-tapping knock on the door. The door opened. In entered a group of two or three hundred FBI soldiers. Around the lawn on the White House, FBI agents were stationed on roosts and hideyholes, waiting to snipe anyone who tried to escape. As the legislators of the house started complaining about the intrusion, FBI soldiers walked about the round room, tying the men to their seats and stuffing their mouths with cotton. “Quiet!” said General Stathem, who had been promoted to infantry general of the FBI. “And listen!” Saying this, he took a remote control out of his pocket. An FBI soldier, wheeling in a large television set, rolled it up to the podium where General Stathem now stood, and the General directed the eyes of the Parliament to the screen. Having captured their attention in this respective manner, he told his right-hand man, Officer McDaniel, who had defected to the FBI along with him, to dim the lights…. The president, sitting in his Oval Office and reading a new bill he was about to veto, also heard a doorbell. Getting up from his seat and opening the door, he was met by 61

Darwen Amos the face of Mr. James. The fifty-year-old Mr. James, who dyed his hair blond each day, smiled in a ‘V,’ as his eyes narrowed into slits like a Chinese sorcerer’s. The president at first didn’t recognize this strange man, who looked so triumphant, but thinking back, he remembered a meeting in which he had spoken with the FBI. It had taken place four years ago, just as the president was being reenacted. However, then, Mr. James had asked for full martial authority to the FBI, citing the recent terrorist attacks as the reason. This authority would give the FBI full power over the United States government, allowing them to do what they wanted willy-nilly. Of course, this was impossible for any president to accept. Right in front of Mr. James’s face, the president had vetoed the bill, triumphantly putting the red stamp on the proposition. Mr. James, he remembered fondly, had been fuming with suppressed anger. But now, somehow the proposition had found its way to the election booths and had been voted in. That triumphant smile on Mr. James’s face told him as much. “What is the meaning of this?” said the president. “Shut up, you old coot,” said Mr. James, snapping his fingers. At his order, five members of the National Guard, once so loyal to the president, now came in and began tying the president up in his chair. As they did so, five members of the US Navy also came in and began to set up a camera station right there in the Oval Office. When the president began to protest, the leader of the National Guard, now fully under the control of the FBI, shot a tranquilizer dart into the president’s neck, stunning him. The president started to protest again, but, in the middle of the sentence fell asleep. “Finally that loudmouth is asleep,” said the leader of 62

An Unlikely Death the National Guard, as the rest of them began to laugh. “Shut up!” said Mr. James. “Now is my time to shine.” “Ready and rolling sir,” said the leader of the US Navy, who was behind the camera. “Very well,” said Mr. James, clearing his throat. “Start the camera and begin taping.” “Yes sir,” said the Navy man, pressing the on button on the side of the camera. Mr. James began his speech…. The members of the US Parliament had their eyes now fixed on the giant screen which took up the eastern wall of the Congress. The screen started at first with static but, as Officer McDaniel readjusted the antennae, it came back into focus. What came into focus was the desk at the Oval Office. The circular presidential seal, plastered under the desk, and the fact that this was the Oval Office, the president’s private bedroom, made every Congressman in the room expect to see the familiar smiling face of their commander-in-chief beaming back at them, perhaps with a comforting message that everything was going to be all right. However, their wild expectations were scheduled to be disappointed. Instead of the smiling face of their president looking back at them, they were met with the sneering faces of Mr. James and his criminal empire. The cotton in the mouths of the various politicians and senators prevented them from expressing their disapproval. Therefore, Mr. James, facing a captive audience, began his planned speech, reading the scrolling text on the screen under the camera. “I know you must all be surprised to find me speaking 63

Darwen Amos to you. There are going to be a few changes in this country. First of all, we will be placing armed guards all over the country to prevent people from opposing the police. In addition, all taxes and sales will go through the police, now a subsection of the FBI, first and less money will be allocated to education and religion. Finally, all weapon possessions are all illegal except for the FBI and the FBI’s police. Drugs of all types will no longer be available, even medical ones. To make up for this, each family making above $40,000 a year will receive a monthly shipment of one of each drug. If you run out, sorry, but you’re on your own. Finally, all money will be reallocated to Project Insignia, which is set into operation immediately…. “What’s Project Insignia, you might ask? It is a project for making all illegal activities, such as gunrunning, drug sales, and prostitution, all come under the single banner of organized legality. It will improve the country. Rather than having the various drug dealers and gun runners, dishonest men one and all, control the distribution of important goods that people will buy regardless of whether or not they are illegal, it will all be controlled by the safe organizations of the FBI and the LAPD. We will of course have to reduce the amount of churches and schools, replacing them with weapons factories and drug cartels. People will complain, of course, but the USA will be the most profitable and least lawbreaking country in the world, as the amount of laws that can be broken will be reduced and controlled. At Stage Omega, there will only be one law: Do not oppose the FBI. Anyone who opposes me will be thrown in jail which, of course, will now be under the control of the FBI. It might be hard at first, but in the end you will get used to it and learn to love it. 64

An Unlikely Death Goodbye, my fellow citizens, and godspeed!” “Cut!” yelled the Navy captain who was manning the camera. “That’s a wrap!” He turned off the camera. “How do you think Project Insignia is going?” asked Mr. James. “Perfect sir, just perfect,” sputtered General Stathem, who had just entered the room. “And what of Reynolds?” asked Mr. James. “Well, sir,” said General Stathem. “right now he cannot be located, but we are trying hard in that direction.” “Good,” said Mr. James. “I will send my best assassin, coincidentally named Mr. Assassin, after him.” “Well sir,” said General Stathem, “if I may speak so honestly, after that Gymnocat debacle I hardly think Mr. Assassin is the correct person for the job.” “Perhaps you might be right,” said Mr. James, stroking his chin. “Got any better ideas?” “If I may,” said General Stathem, “my own officer, McDaniel, just may be the man for the job.” “An Irishman, I see by the name,” said Mr. James. “then perhaps we will be lucky in getting the job done.” General Stathem saluted his new captain, walking over to the Parliament to inform his inferior, McDaniel about his new assignment. Officer McDaniel waited in the Legislative Office. His impassive face showed no emotion. Neither did he say anything, for he had, as a child in Tibet living among monks, taken a vow of silence which lasted twenty years. Ever since he was six years old, he hadn’t spoken a word. When General Stathem entered, he simply listened to what his superior had to say. Nodding his head in agree65

Darwen Amos ment, he picked up his sniper gun. He was the perfect soldier, obeying without speaking. Then he walked out of the building and over to his patrol car, a K-9 unit. When he entered the car with the file locating Officer Reynolds’s possible whereabouts, his German Shepard, Shing-Lao, leapt up from the passenger seat to lick his face. (McDaniel went so far as to consider this humble creature a full-fledged partner of his, a conceit that made him unpopular with the cat-lovers.) Officer McDaniel, a very serious fellow, merely patted the dog’s head. Though he himself was a vegetarian, his dog was not, and he threw Shing-Lao a bloody shank of a horse he had purchased from the butcher shop. Shing-Lao hungrily began to eat it, the blood of the rare horse drooling down his chin and making a gore-filled puddle on the upholstery. Shing-Lao, the German Shepard, was a dangerous dog who could smell both drugs, guns, and bombs. But what he could smell best was human beings. And what he could smell even better was the fear of human beings. He rarely smelled the former without also smelling the latter. Officer McDaniel held up a piece of fabric which had once belonged to Officer Reynolds. Shing-Lao smelled it. Like a compass, Shing-Lao’s nose suddenly pointed north. So North it was… thought Officer McDaniel. His instinct had told him as much. Since his instinct and his dog’s nose were in full agreement, there was a one hundred per cent chance North was correct. Giving a short prayer to the Tibetan gods, his car, his dog, and he headed in the northerly direction, the sniper rifle on the back seat of the patrol car, ominously shining in the setting sun with what appeared to be a bloody gleam…. The American flags on the green grassy lawn of the 66

An Unlikely Death White House fluttered in the wind…. *** America was in a chaos. Never since President Nixon’s tyrannical reign had the country been such an apocalyptic wasteland. Hospitals, nurseries, schools, churches – one and all were felled as if by a single chop of a large axe… wielded, of course, by that lumberjack of America, Uncle Sam, except he was now wearing FBI threads. Weeping men and woman watched in grief as FBI helicopters arrived at their favorite hotspots, with large medicine balls hanging from the bottoms like the balls and chains that keep husbands from watching sports and drinking beer on Sundays, the consecrated football nights of America. As the swinging balls of destruction hit the buildings, and the buildings clattered to the ground amidst rubble and smoke, firefighters were forced to put out the fires of destruction… The screaming of women, and the cries of babies still trapped in the buildings, wandered over the sad nightscape…. Jim Haverson walked his daughter to the ice cream store. His daughter, Karen, only an age of eight, was happily at her father’s side, bouncing up and down with a balloon in one hand, trailing in the afternoon sky. Fighter jets and helicopters winged their ways all across the sky, but for Jim Haverson and his daughter, there were only the two of them in this world, father and daughter, going to the ice cream shop, for a job well done on the last report card. Karen’s brain was dreaming of the different variations 67

Darwen Amos of ice cream, all 31 different flavors, whirling in her unintelligible mind like Christmas sweets. Jim Haverson, thinking of the five hours of work he had to do every day in order to supply his wife and daughter and pets with the food and love they needed, reflected on how it was a good use of his hard-earned money to use it to buy ice cream to his daughter, and bring just a little bit more happiness than she had previously had. The eyes of the two familiars, glazed over with happiness, ignored the various signs of national defeat present in this war-torn wasteland – the fallen buildings, the bodies of political dissidents piled up upon the streets in various attitudes and positions of death, the river of refuse being redirected from the sewer system into the state prisons… all of these were invisible figments of the imagination for these two lucky fellows…. They passed First Street, made a turn on Main Avenue, and arrived by way of Wilkinshire Blvd to their favorite ice cream shop, a mom and pop’s business named Mr. Cream’s. Just when Jim Haverson was about to reach for the familiar doorknob of this store, which had remained open and operational since 1950, he realized that the doorknob wasn’t there, missing… Surprised like a dog which expects to find a ball its owner teasingly pretended to throw, the blue-collar everyday Joe stepped back, trying to view the ice cream shop at which he and his daughter had spent so many lazy Sundays together, perhaps eating a Rocky Road ice cream. It was to no avail. Where the ice cream shop used to be there was only dusty, dead air. Fragments of concrete, left behind by the wrecking ball which had crushed the building only a few days before, still hung in the air, impeding vision. And even though the vision was impeded, Jim Haverson still 68

An Unlikely Death had enough wherewithal to notice that the shop was gone – devastated by the FBI… Karen, her hopes broken, released the string in her hand. The sad balloon climbed skyward – up, and up and up until perhaps, one day, it will hit that sun of ours and pop. But until then, it is still flying in the air. And until then there can be no happiness – neither for Jim nor Karen Haverson. Mabeline Johnson, a resident of the Woodland Retirement home, was sad. Her best friend, one Mary Gymnocat, had been murdered only a short while ago. The only thing which still gave her happiness was the morphine her nursing home nurse had administered to her every day. Sitting at a chessboard, the sad elderly woman waited for her drug. Ten minutes passed. Nothing happened. Then, Mabeline Johnson began to be suspicious. She waited until a nurse was passing the table and grabbed her arm. The nurse, confused but still with a caring expression on her face, turned to Mabeline, asking with her eyes the question: “What is the matter?” “Where is my medicine?” demanded Mabeline. “But don’t you know?” said the nurse. “Don’t I know what?” said Mabeline crabbily. “That ever since Mr. James took power, nursing homes only get one of each drug. And we had to give the morphine to Mrs. Wilkinstone, who, as you may know, is very sick and in quite a lot of pain.” Mabeline Johnson, depressed, tried to think of happy thoughts. But, without her medicine, it was impossible. The only images that went through her head were those 69

Darwen Amos connected with death – RIPs, cemeteries, and ghosts… Dwaine Smith needed to sell illegal books to keep his baby sister and mother alive. His mother, an invalid, could not work and his sister, only of the age of five, did not have the ability to buy anything with her “job” as a mere child. Therefore, Dwaine was forced to sell “The Catcher in the Rye,” a book which should be legal anyways, and which does not have that many harmful effects, to survive. He waited on the corner street for his next customer. Maggy, one of his normal customers passed by without saying a word. “Hey!” said Dwaine, calling her back. “Don’t you want to buy some books?” Maggy shook her head. “Haven’t you heard? All books use is maintained by the FBI. Every book is now legal. I can get illegal books at far cheaper prices at the local supermarket now so why should I buy from you?” Dwaine walked home, dejected… Mr. James sat in his office at the top of a high-rise building. The bell on his communicator rang. It was his young secretary. “The new funds have just arrived,” said the young secretary into the radio. “How much?” said Mr. James. “Ten million dollars,” said the young secretary. “And where should we allocate them?” asked Mr. James. “Well, sir,” said the young secretary, taken aback. 70

An Unlikely Death “That’s up to you.” “Then allocate them to Project Insignia,” said Mr. James. “Yes sir,” said the young secretary. Mr. and Mrs. Christopher walked to church. When they reached it, the church had been destroyed. “How can we worship if there is no church?” asked Mrs. Christopher. “I don’t know, dear,” said Mr. Christopher, shaking his head in confusion. It was time for school. David Kinsington, an eight year old, was eager to go to school and learn about science. Science had always been his favorite subject since grade school. The only other subject that even came close was math, then English. He always raised his hand after the bell for end of class rang to ask for more homework. The teacher, shaking his head in amazed disbelief, always assigned special homework for David, amidst the knowing groans and complaints of the other classmates. However, David was well liked by all involved and never had to make do with the less than average amount of friends. David, waking up from his bed, stretched his arms with a satisfying noise. He turned his alarm clock off with a bang. Even though he set his alarm clock to go off right before school, he always awoke before it began its trademark ring, telling him a new morning was afoot. He looked out the window with a yawn. It was a beautiful day. The birds singing, the grass waving in the wind, a perfect day to learn about science. 71

Darwen Amos In his mind, David imagined and heard the various bells to signify the ends of each period, which he hated. He imagined the smiling faces of his professors as they rose to meet him. A smell of pancakes was in the air. Excited, David jumped out his bed and ran downstairs, almost scraping his knee on the banister. His mother, however, was not looking to cook pancakes, but was sitting on the couch with a disappointing look on her face. The television and radio were on. The radio said: “Students all around the world are rejoicing, for there is no more school…” David turned to his mother… “Is that true?” he said. “No more s-s-s-chool?” “Yes honey,” said the mother. With a cry of anger David ran back up the stairs, entered his room, and slammed the door behind him. He jumped on the bed and cried himself to sleep. In his dreams came the horrible noise of the radio, nightmarishly repeating “No more school, no more school…” The bell on Mr. James’s desk rang. Pressing the button, Mr. James said, “What is it?” “The schools have been closed,” said the young secretary. “Very well,” said Mr. James. “Allocate the money to build the new schools.” “Yes sir,” said the young secretary. The schools were razed. In their place were built technologically advanced schools, which taught obedience to 72

An Unlikely Death the FBI. From the next Monday forward, a new indoctrination would begin. According to David Kinsington’s wish, the schools would reopen. But he should have been careful what he wished for… The military vehicle wove through the devastated streets. A member of the National Guard poked out of the top of the vehicle with a megaphone. Speaking into the megaphone, he shouted, “Do not be alarmed. Return to your homes. Do not be alarmed. Return to your homes.” The homeless, who had no homes, shivered in fear. The rest of the populace, afraid as well, returned to the safety of their abodes. A heron flew across the berth of the sky, symbolizing death – not of a person, but of the normal way of life. From now on a new world order would begin…

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Chapter Six The Bayou

S

tevens walked up to Officer Reynolds, who was now fishing in the lake, in swampy Florida. After the FBI had come into power, Stevens had, for safety, taken Officer Reynolds to his other home in Florida, in order to keep him away from the LAPD. In any case, with the station in chaos, Stevens thought they both deserved a break and, at the first sign, had bought two round trip tickets to his other home in the bayou. On the plane ride over, Stevens had repeatedly mentioned how inspired he was that Reynolds had atoned for the collateral damage he had caused. But Reynolds would have none of it. “Anyone else would have done the same,” he said, with a dismissive wave of the hand. Now they were in Florida. Sipping a “crocodile juice,” an alcoholic drink specially made up and mixed by Officer Stevens, Officer Roger Reynolds lay in his hammock, idly fishing in the lake. His catch had been good, but most 74

An Unlikely Death of the fish had been eaten by the many crocodiles that lived in the bayou. Stevens had, for this reason, suggested the dubious activity of “crocodile fishing,” but Reynolds, having tried “crocodile meat” once at the jerky shop, shook his head in denial while Stevens, amused, had laughed at his resistance. It was kind of fun fishing, but Reynolds wanted back in on the action. Like any cop, he couldn’t stand the stagnation of time, and if he wasn’t constantly in motion, would suffocate to death, like a shark that must swim in order to breathe. “So,” said Officer Stevens, “what do you want to do next? Play some go fish?” “Nah,” said Officer Reynolds, “I think I’ll just take a nap.” “Suit yourself!” said Officer Stevens cheerfully, “but me and Officer Edwards are going to play go fish.” Reynolds, lying in his hammock, idly waving his hand, made it clear that he should not be bothered. He closed his eyes. As he did so he listened to the myriad sounds of clacking cards which signaled the game was already underway. “Go fish!” he heard the triumphant voice of Officer Stevens, who had just made his set. “Aw,” said Officer Edwards, disappointed at his game loss. Go fish… as Officer Stevens drifted off to sleep, he remembered all the fish in the sea he still had to catch… He saw before his eyes the disagreeable faces of General Stathem, Mr. James, and Officer McDaniel. He fell asleep….

75

Darwen Amos *** Officer McDaniel was heading north from Los Angeles to Miami, Florida. Although normal drivers can drive only at the posted speed limit, police officers are allowed to drive as fast as they want, as long as their sirens are on to warn the other drivers. Officer McDaniel had no need for such contrivances. Although it was available for him to use, since ShingLao was in the car, Officer McDaniel did not use the carpool lane. Instead, he chose to ride in traffic with the rest of the world, having learned from his Buddhist studies that all human beings shared one mind, like the superhighway which led like a wire from California to Florida. This wire, intercutting the two states through an underlying mechanism that ran through all of the continental states, was like a “go here” line followed by the keen nose of Shing-Lao. It was rush hour. The cars packed like sardines in a can, slowly crawled their way to their destinations. Frustrated people, honking their horns, pleaded that the people in front of them would go faster. Of course, it only takes one car to stop an entire traffic on any given day. The more cars that stopped in their tracks the more slower, like slugs, would the traffic be. Air traffic controllers flew in helicopter formations above the berth of the sky. Seizing out of the stratosphere, the golden dragonflies of Mr. James’s new reign crisscrossed as they reported on the congealed flow of traffic. The radio in one of the helicopters was connected directly to Mr. James’s desk. This helicopter, driven by Mr. James’s young secretary, reported the following: “The 405-South is clogged up. It looks as if Officer McDaniel 76

An Unlikely Death cannot reach his destination…” A message in response, short and to the point, came over the speaker in the copter. “Then, initiate Project Insignia Formation Play 817957Y.” “Yes, sir,” said the young secretary. The young secretary pressed a button on the dashboard of the helicopter. A radio signal, so high of a frequency that it could not be picked up by college students running pirate radio stations on their grandpa’s CB's, in fact so high that dogs, undisturbed, refrained from barking as though a dog whistle had been blown, rang out in a radial axis from the beam transmitter in the helicopter. If these radio beacon beams, invisible to the human eye, could be sent out to be viewed by the human eye, a spider-web of red and green lights would seem to emanate from the middle point of the spinning blades of the copter, traveling wide vistas to meet up with the mile-high receivers atop the FBI code reception centers, that were once private radio stations converted by the FBI for this particular cause. Agent Gemini, sitting in the seat of one of these radio stations in Wisconsin, saw the blinking green light on his control panel. Opening his code book, he looked up the code that was being transmitted over and over again. 817957Y. The code was for the Magnetic Interference play, on a sector somewhere over the 405-South in Los Angeles. With an extended finger, Agent Gemini pressed the button for Magnetic Interference. Inputting the exact location of Officer McDaniel’s police patrol car, down to the square area in which it was contained, he gave the signal. The radio beam of the station, which had been reinforced to be more powerful than ever before, was sent out 77

Darwen Amos through the troposphere, past the ozone layer, and out of the earth’s atmosphere to an FBI satellite orbiting the planet Earth. This satellite, which had once been used to transmit television to the Earth’s viewers (television not endorsed by the FBI was no longer legal) now was equipped to send magnetic beams with pinpoint accuracy. A few days previous, Mr. James had sent out a NASA space team, at great expense to the tax-payers (taxes were now increased twofold…) to go into outer space and equip the satellite with a new purpose and technological system. This had been successful. Though people had wondered at the time at what the purpose for such an extravagant magnetic reactor, in outer space of all places, could have been, it would become clear to the many commuters stuck in traffic on the 405-South, as well as the air traffic helicopter operators, as well as, if all went to plan, Officer Reynolds, the target, who was now relaxing in the bayou with his good friend Officer Stevens. A few seconds passed. The radio signal traveled at the speed of thousand roadrunners into the inhospitable atmosphere of outer space, man’s final frontier. The satellite waited to receive it. This satellite, originally designed to transmit television signals, and receive only the daily programming of various channels, had already looked somewhat otherworldly, like a spaceship made in Mars. But now, after the NASA team had equipped the satellite with bulky, insectoid devices, it looked like something never before imagined by either human beings or aliens. The satellite now resembled a thousand armed jellyfish covered with metal and blinking lights, antennae protruding from its central point. The satellite itself was now so large as to have a gravitational pull, and itself could boast multiple small satellites, small asteroids and cosmic refuse or78

An Unlikely Death biting it like so many wayward moons. At the very center of this altered satellite, which measured twenty feet in length, and was now dubbed “The Magnetron,” was a receiving device. This device now received the signal for the Magnetic Interference Play. The alert satellite had also been outfitted with various space propulsion systems, salvaged from the destroyed spaceships of the past. These propulsion systems (jet engines and the like) now showed their intense pedigree, propelling the satellite like a jet-ski through calm waters. The satellite, in a matter of seconds had positioned itself directly over the 405-South, displaced two light years away, but nevertheless accurate as an expert marksman. It looked now, not like a sedentary being like a jellyfish, but a bird or cat of prey, or a sniper carefully taking aim at his target. Although there is no sound in space, if there was, one would be able to hear the whirring and readjusting of the machinery in the satellite, as it began to take a different form. Much like a transformer, the satellite now turned itself inside out, and readjusted its own formation, until it resembled a sniper’s rifle. It remained in its new form and, after a few seconds, out of its nozzle began to transmit ultra-powerful magnetic beams toward its target on Earth. It would take two seconds for these beams to reach their target but, seeing as how traffic was stuck, Officer McDaniel’s car, the target, wouldn’t be likely to move. Officer McDaniel remained in his car, idly patting his dog, Shing-Lao, who sat on the passenger seat, on the furry head. His CD player was on, playing a Tibetan hymn. Most people, even with the music of the monks in the 79

Darwen Amos background, would be intensely irritated with the state of the congested traffic. However, McDaniel didn’t even feel slightly irked. Whatever will be, must be – that was his motto. The only thing that really annoyed him was betrayal, like what those renegade officers had done. But right now, his mind empty, he was completely calm. Shing-Lao, however, was a little bit restless. It was unusual for Shing-Lao to be so finicky. In fact, as far as it is possible for a dog to shift in its seat, Shing-Lao was doing so. Like a restless tide, Shing-Lao squirmed in discomfort, his nose valiantly sniffing out unrest and his ears perked for danger this way and that. McDaniel began to take notice. It was not, after all, a usual thing. Although some dogs bark and shift for no real reason, Shing-Lao was not a one to needlessly make turmoil. In truth, if Shing-Lao felt restless, something, perhaps slight, but nevertheless still there, was amiss in the atmosphere. Officer McDaniel knew this, although he could not tell what it was. Shing-Lao was not only adept at smelling scents, but also at smelling displacements in the cosmos. Whatever credit McDaniel gave to his dog for soaking in the Buddhist maxims he thought and lived by daily was not enough. Like a wise man, Shing-Lao knew when something was up. In truth it was a number of things. When I previously said that dogs couldn’t hear the radio signal transmitted by the helicopter, since it was so high in frequency, what I should have said was that most dogs couldn’t. But ShingLao was not a normal dog and in fact had almost subconsciously detected a strange discrepancy in the radio field. In addition, Shing-Lao was sensing moment by moment the machinations of the satellite in space, and could detect 80

An Unlikely Death that magnetic beam, like an approaching meteor, headed for the patrol car. Shing-Lao barked. It was a nervous, catlike yap, completely out of character, insofar as dogs can be said to have something of the individuality that defines human nature. What is it boy? thought Officer McDaniel. He wanted to cry out, but was held fast by his vow of silence. In spite of himself and all his training, McDaniel was becoming uneasy… The helicopter in which the young secretary now sat wavered slightly and jerkily, as if the air around it had tremored for an instant… Officer McDaniel, confused, was about to consider what to do when suddenly, with the suddenness approaching the demonic, this patrol car began to hover. Shing-Lao became even more anxious, and began to pace back and forth in his seat, finally falling to the floor. This silly pratfall would have been amusing to normal, human people, but the introspective Officer McDaniel was devoid of true empathy and did not laugh. Officer McDaniel did not realize it at first, but then, by looking out the window, and seeing himself a few feet above the other cars on the road, realized what was happening: his car was now suspended in mid air, though he did not know how so. Yet Officer McDaniel began to run through a list of possible actions. Perhaps what he should do was exit the vehicle. It was ironic that, he, who had very often signaled for a criminal to exit the vehicle, now found himself having to do the 81

Darwen Amos same. The manner of fate was astounding and inscrutable. At that moment the Tibetan music playing on his sound system crackled and spit, as if with static. Then, a calm boyish voice, unrecognized by McDaniel, spoke through his speakers. “Make sure you have your seat belts on,” said the young secretary to McDaniel. “We’ll get you where you need to go.” McDaniel, not knowing what to expect, braced himself against the back of his seat. In outer space, the satellite, exerting and holding its magnetic pull, now began to swiftly move across the space of the continental United States. McDaniel’s patrol car, already hovering, began to move, at first somewhat slowly and shakily, as if hesitant, forward. Then, with surprising speed, it began to rush its way towards Florida, miraculously in mid air, though McDaniel was pressing the brake with his foot. Nevertheless, the patrol car traveled on winged wheels towards Florida, at two hundred miles an hour. The world rushed past the windows of the car and even Shing-Lao would not wish to put his head out the window. All Officer McDaniel saw was a series of motion lines… The other people stuck in traffic watched in wide-eyed amazement as the flying car swept past them. They could hardly believe their eyes. A flying car! If only they could be so lucky…

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An Unlikely Death *** Officer Reynolds woke up from his hammock to a strange noise and sensation. The fishing pole, which he still held in his drowsing hands, was jerking and careening about like a wild man. Hurrying to get out his hammock and carry the fish out of the water and into the frying pan, Reynolds, dropped to the muddy floor and started to pull on the fishing road with all his strength. “Hey! Looks like I’ve got a live one!” shouted Officer Reynolds, shaping his hands like a megaphone and shouting through the cave of cupped flesh at where he believed Officer Stevens and Officer Edwards were. They, however, didn’t seem to be there and did not answer. Reynolds got back to his fish, which was fighting like a beached whale. After ten minutes of fighting, Reynolds pulled out the fish. It was a large fish, almost one meter in length and a weight of two stones. Reynolds looked forward to eating that fish. But as it dangled temptingly before his eyes a couple feet above the marshy Florida water, a giant crocodile jumped out the water and ate the fish with one clean bite. Then, licking its lips, the crocodile eyed Officer Reynolds. He was thinking, no doubt, that the fish had just been an appetizer and that Officer Reynolds was the true main course. With a glint in his eye, the crocodile flew through the air and charged towards Reynolds. The water dripping off the hungry creature as it flew through the air looked like tears. Crocodile tears indeed, thought Reynolds, as he unholstered his gun. The crocodile, seeing the gun, seemed to be hesitant about whether or not to attack Reynolds. It did not think 83

Darwen Amos in terms of words, but in hunger. Its dreams, too, was made up of the subtly different shades of hunger a crocodile can have. This is many different more shades than a human being’s hunger. In any case, without even hesitating about whether to continue its attack, the crock approached Reynolds, mouth wide open, a voided abyss of hunger and satiation. The machinery of nature’s wrath… Reynolds saw before his eyes the wide open mouth, and the spinning teeth like helicopter blades began to hypnotize him. Exactly as nature had intended, Reynolds stood helpless in front of the approaching crocodile without having the wherewithal to fire his gun. Just then, Officer Stevens was walking out of his hut, thinking about his last game of go fish, which he had lost by one set. Should he have played his ace of spades? He wondered… Just as he was about to retire for the day and go back to sleep, he saw out of the corner of his eye something like a large leather purse leaping gracefully through the air with an open zipper, about to consume his friend Officer Reynolds. Stevens thought fast, and leapt into the window of his hut, where he had left his gun on the dressing table next to the lamp… Meanwhile, Officer Reynolds was thinking of merrygo-rounds… As a child he had rode on many of these famous merry-go-rounds, never having imagined that one would one day kill him. His life began to flash before his eyes, much like a carnival ride, confused and out of order. He remembered his birth, when his mother had held him 84

An Unlikely Death in her arms after the doctor had said “It’s a boy.” Then… tragedy. His mother was told that she could never have another baby. Reynolds had cried while his mother tried to explain to him that no, he would not be able to have a younger brother. He remembered also that first day of school, when he had been nervous to leave his parents. However, he had quickly made friends and got good grades in school, and was well-adjusted and started taking his own responsibility… He remembered, too, his first love. Susan… Meeting her in high school, they went on dates to the movies. They had got married soon after. He remembered promising her, in his wedding vows, that he would always be there for her. But now that vow was in danger… He remembered when he had been accepted into the police academy. After passing the examination, the police captain had told him, “You’re in.” Then he had trained to become a real cop. After that, he had met his friend Officer Stevens for the first time. They always had a few beers after work, and often shot the bull while watching the Super Bowl… Were all these previous memories in danger? Meanwhile, Officer Stevens had leapt through the window. He instinctively reached for the gun he always kept on his bedside table. What? It wasn’t there! Huh? What Officer Stevens did not know was that his young son, Max, had come in while he was sleeping to play cops and robbers with his friends, and taken the weapon. The gun, of course, wasn’t loaded so Max wouldn’t be in danger but Officer Stevens needed a gun – and fast! 85

Darwen Amos Then he remembered. Reaching under his pillow, there was the gun he kept there as a backup! Yes! It was there! Breathing a sigh of relief, he grabbed the gun with his hand. This gun, of course, he kept loaded, as there was no chance, with his sleeping head covering it, that his son could find it there! Grabbing it, he rushed outside. Outside, the scene had changed. Whereas beforehand he had seen Officer Reynolds standing there with the crocodile headed towards him, his eyes now feasted on a different scene. Now the crocodile had already clamped Reynolds’s body in its teeth and was doing the trademark crocodile “death roll.” Knowing this was his last chance, Officer Stevens shot a bullet deep into the gullet of the monster, killing it immediately. As it died, its mouth relaxed and opened. Officer Reynolds came out. Running to his friend, Officer Stevens asked, “Are you all right?” “Blech!” said Officer Reynolds, flicking his hand off from the saliva. “Crocodile spit! Yuck!” Officer Stevens laughed in relief. His friend was safe. Just then, Officer Edwards walked out from the hut, wiping his sleepy eyes. He yawned. “So, anything new?” He asked, stretching. Officer Stevens and Reynolds looked at each other in their eyes. Then, simultaneously, they both burst out into raucous laughter, as if sharing an inside joke. Officer Edwards, confused, could only scratch his head in bewilderment… That night, Officer Stevens, Reynolds, and Edwards were sitting around the kitchen table, playing a hand of poker, and eating crocodile jerky. The lethargy of the day 86

An Unlikely Death had sunk in, and no one was really in the mood. Add to this the fact that a crocodile attack had barely missed killing one of their crew, and it was too much to ignore. In any case, all three police officers wanted to get back in the heat of things. These card sharks needed to swim in order to live. “This is boring,” said Officer Reynolds, who spoke what all three were thinking. “Phew!” said Officer Stevens. “And I thought I was alone in that opinion!” “What say we all get back to the station?” said Officer Edwards. “I’m sure that whole Project Insignia thing has blown over by now, right?” “I wouldn’t be too sure about that,” said Officer Reynolds. “One can never underestimate General Stathem. He may not be a humanist, but he is a shrewd businessman. Further, as it follows, he is also a shrewd politician, for what is politics but a business?” “Very true,” said Officer Stevens, nodding his head, “but we should be getting back anyway. Without us, the station is short-staffed. Who will be there to keep order?” “That’s right,” said Officer Edwards. “Let’s go back to our home.” “Sure,” said Officer Reynolds, who was already on his laptop computer, typing out the web page address for a travel company. “I’ll take the first tickets out of here… hmm… here it is. Florida to LA, $500. Is that okay for all of you?” “Sure is,” said Stevens. “When’s it leave?” “Tomorrow morning,” said Officer Reynolds. “6:00 AM. So if ya’ll want to get some sleep, you should go to bed now.” Officer Stevens yawned and made an exaggerated ges87

Darwen Amos ture of sleepiness. “Sounds good to me.” he said. “Ditto,” yawned Officer Edwards. The night passed with no incident…

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Chapter Seven Homeward Bound

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he airport was abuzz with activity. Prospective passengers, wanting to get home to their families for Thanksgiving dinner, held turkey and Christmas presents in their arms. From time to time a stranger would drop a present from their heavy arms and a Good Samaritan would pick it up for them, responding to the obligatory “thank you” with a dismissive wave of the hand. Good cheer was all about. The metal detectors, checking passengers for terrorists, found nothing to arouse the suspicion of Homeland Security (terrorism was now the FBI). Signals of delayed flights were relayed through the various loud speakers dangling in mid air, and passengers shook their waiting heads and smiled with chagrin as their flight got delayed. There was a large window and a flattened escalator that moved from side to side rather than up and down. Gift stores, filled to the brim with colorful stationaries and souvenirs, were patronized by speculating 89

Darwen Amos customers, picking out Christmas presents for little Johnny or their Aunt Jill. It was into such an environs that three police officers, clad in plain clothes, waltzed through the door. The metal detector operators were about to check them for guns but Officer Reynolds preempted them by showing his badge. Apologizing profusely in an obsequious manner, bowing in politeness, and yet retaining a solicitous manner, the security guards waved the policemen through. The other people in line, who had various jobs of firemen, law clerks, and supermarket workers, grumbled at the favoritism, their cheer dissipating into hate – hate for these officers, who lived only to humiliate others, and to express their ill-gotten authority on racial minorities with the blunt force of their nightstick batons to the skull. Officer Reynolds walked over to the desk where a person goes to buy tickets. He had, of course, used an online ticketing service to reserve the plane tickets in advance, and held a piece of blank paper on which was printed the serial number of the flight he had reserved. Clucking her tongue in thought as she checked the paper, the desk worker looked up the number on her computer and waved them through. In a matter of time, they were on board the plane, watching the airline movie and eating peanuts. Officer McDaniel, on an invisible road in the middle of the air, was suddenly dropped down onto the Florida bayous. His patrol car smashed down into the ground, breaking into two pieces, and rendering itself unusable. Since the recent Great FBI Upheaval of 2009, all automobile insurance companies had gone under. It was his loss. Getting out of the patrol car with his dog and his sniper rifle, 90

An Unlikely Death he began to appraise the scenery around him, looking for any sign that either Officer Reynolds, and the two other defecting officers, Officer Edwards and Officer Stevens, had been here or were still here. Shing-Lao, however, seemed disinterested in the case. But when a marsh cat ran by, he chased it. He was still a dog. Officer McDaniel saw the remains of household activity all around the marsh. A stick lay in mid air above a spit. When Officer McDaniel walked over to examine it, he found the remains of alligator meat around the suspended stick. His finger touched it, and he looked at his finger. It was covered with a fine ash. Dragonflies were swarming all about. It had been, to Officer McDaniel’s intuition, about three hours ago that the inhabitants of this marsh and the hut a way off had retreated. He was too late, after all. He would have to return to base to get further instructions. But not without his dog. Officer McDaniel had taken a vow of silence a long time, when he was six, while he had been living with Tibetan monks. It was a twenty year vow of silence, and Officer McDaniel was now twenty-six years old. He remembered to the exact second when he had taken the vow. When it ended, he had only three things to say – one to his father, one to God, and one to the devil in Hell. He had no words for the Buddha, no words for the world, nor the million shapeless souls that floated around in that world. And after he had said those choice words, he would take up the vow again, for another twenty years. His words had been carefully chosen and organized in his mind like a trinity of holy poems, fit to be inscribed on any tablet in any temple. In any case, since Officer Mc91

Darwen Amos Daniel could not speak, he couldn’t call his dog by any auditory means. Shing-Lao was off chasing the marsh cat. For the second time, he regretted his vow of silence. In truth, Shing-Lao, who was six years old, did not know his own name, since Officer McDaniel had never spoken it aloud. In fact nobody knew Shing-Lao’s name except Officer McDaniel. In such a way did Shing-Lao become a thing of illusion, made of the same material as our dreaming thoughts… Officer McDaniel simply waited until his dog came back. It would come back… probably… unless an alligator got him. But Shing-Lao was trained in dogfighting and probably could take an alligator, if things came down to that. Of course things would not necessarily come down to that. But still… it was something to worry about. Officer McDaniel took this time to compose a Zen koan: Officer in the marsh dragonfly passes bywaiting for dog… and – The dog, chasing marsh cats. traitorsin the midst… His mind was intensely, antagonistically unpoetic. Whenever he tried to compose a poem, it always came down to simple description of his situation and surroundings. But perhaps such a tendency was what made him be such an ineluctably good cop. For example, if you have to shoot a woman who is a murderer in the head, it’s better 92

An Unlikely Death to think of her as a realistic being of flesh rather than as some type of indestructible angel. Though Officer McDaniel would have no trouble shooting an angel in the head if it had committed even a minor crime. Not that he would hesitate shooting a non-criminal in the face either. He was just uncompromising like that. But at the same time, he had no human nature at all. In any case he was no poet. His dreaming mind waited as his physical mind waited for his dog… And he knew good things come to those who wait. Shing-Lao was on an adventure, chasing the butterflies and marsh cats, his mind entranced with things only a dog can imagine. The marsh cat, a gray, shivering thing, had run into a mass of reeds. Shing-Lao chased it into the shrub, but stopped short when his nose was slashed by a piece of hard paper, or cardboard sticking out from the mass of reeds. He forgot all about the marsh cat and remembered his mortal mission. Grabbing the paper in his mouth, he was about to bark to signal his master, whom he thought of as “my master,” rather than “Officer McDaniel,” as dogs are wont to do, but then remembered his master’s vow of silence, which would prevent him from hearing the bark. Realizing this, Shing-Lao put the paper in his mouth and used his nose to find Officer McDaniel, who was standing about silently next to the patrol car. Officer McDaniel saw his dog approaching him. Leaning down to pet him, he saw the paper in his mouth. He removed it from his dog’s grasp and unfolded it. It was a receipt, an online receipt which had been printed out not much longer than three hours ago. Spreading it out in front of him like a map, this is what he read:

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Darwen Amos Online Receipt 3 Tickets from Florida to California $500 each Total $1500 Paid by Credit Card Thank you for using this service. On the bottom of this receipt, Officer Reynolds, that insolent clown, had scrawled in childish letters: “You’re welcome! Signed, Officer Reynolds,” even though no one affiliated with the company would read it. In addition, Reynolds was a litterbug. No matter how good he thought he was, he had thrown this receipt into the marsh. (Actually Reynolds had done no such thing. In fact he had disposed of it in the trash can but a strong wind, through no fault of his own, had made it go into the marsh -The Author) And Officer Stevens, he was even worse. Though he didn’t have a good reason for it, McDaniel thought that Stevens was the worst traitor of them all. And he didn’t like Officer Edwards either. Since these three, who he hated, had turned out to be traitors, it was a boost to his self-confidence. The revelation confirmed in McDaniel’s smug mind the righteousness of his mission. When he found the three traitors they would not live to be traitors again. In any case, here was proof. They were no longer here, and were most likely headed back to Los Angeles to obtain their old jobs once again. He took out his cell phone, by which he communicated with General Stathem, the only man he answered to, by text messages. He typed out: “Destination Reached. Reynolds not here. Returning to Los Angeles.” He pressed the “send button,” and waited. A minute later and his phone rang. Pressing the “talk” 94

An Unlikely Death button, he looked at the blue glowing screen. General Stathem had messaged him back. The message read: “Just spoke to Mr. James. Yes, we are aware. Remain where you are. We will bring the defectors to you. Repeat. Remain where you are. We will bring the defectors to you. Over.” McDaniel did not question what this meant. Following his directive, McDaniel ushered Shing-Lao back into the car, and took the wheel again, though he did not start his car. Remaining parked, he awaited his next orders. He would not have to wait long… The aeroplane now began its long descent from Florida to Los Angeles. The airline stewardesses served the shabby airline meal and, as usual, did not give enough peanuts. Other than this, however, it was an okay flight, with few turbulences. Officer Stevens and Edwards had fallen asleep and Officer Edwards, who had a nasal problem, was snoring like a bear’s cave. Officer Reynolds, however, was excited about his first flight and looked out the window with childlike curiosity, his animated eyes wide open in amazed wonder. From up here, all the people look like ants! thought Reynolds, and look, all the various cars and trucks down there look like those miniature tin toys I once collected and played with as a child… Ding. The seat belt light rang. Reynolds fastened his seat belt. The stewardesses, passing down the aisles, remarked to the passengers that they should buckle up for safety. Reynolds commented to the stewardess that he was an officer of the law and if people didn’t buckle up, 95

Darwen Amos he would give them a ticket. Although he said this with a joking expression, he was certainly serious. Always the boy scout, Reynolds could never abide by crime, no matter how minor. The airline movie was an exciting action film about the exploits of a renegade cop. No matter what, though, truth is stranger than fiction and, as Reynolds weighed the events around his own, non-fiction life, he found that fiction could not hold muster. Why do novelists and filmmakers always insist on making books and movies about fiction, when there is so much excitement and life in the world that surrounds us? With their noses buried in books, instead of them experiencing life, they do not see the forest for the trees. Idly musing thus, Reynolds watched the action-packed film without much interest. In time, without knowing it, he too settled down for a long nap… The police station that Reynolds, Edwards, and Stevens were about to return to was not the same one they had left. Where there had once been rows of desks in an open field, there were now only impersonal walls. Each desk was set in its own cubicle. Neither, too, was there any personality in any of the individual police officers. After General Stathem had been given full power, he used his authority to implement some changes which suited Mr. James’s tyrannical disposition. The officers were stripped of their names, and each was given a cold, impersonal number, which they were required to have tattooed on their foreheads. Also, all officers were required to wear gas masks at all times, preventing them from having per96

An Unlikely Death sonal facial characteristics. A voice oscillation device was equipped on the inside of each mask, making each person’s voice sound exactly like the shrill, hypocritical voice of Mr. James. Large, white padded body suits were forced onto the different police officers’ varying body types, which made it impossible to tell which were female and which were male. One good effect of this was that it got rid of racism. But it also got rid of individuality. Was it worth it? The police station now looked like a decontamination center, with scientists wearing protective suits. When Reynolds, Edwards, and Stevens strolled into the door, it was as if they were the diseased, and the police station was a quarantine. The other officers, fully suited, looked upon the newcomers with a kind of fear mixed with envious jealousy – jealousy of their individuality. “Whoa,” said Officer Stevens, surprised. “Hey guys, what’s going on?” shouted Reynolds. “Yeah, what’s going on?” repeated Officer Edwards. For a while nothing happened. The many people in the biohazard suits and the plain clothed trio regarded each other as if meeting for the first time. Both parties were frozen like stone. There were red circular lights, resembling transparent smoke alarms, affixed to the ceiling, one per square foot. They were off. Suddenly, as if in delayed response to the arrival of the three officers, they began to rotate like spinning tops. Almost simultaneously they began to flash on and off with a demonic, angry red. It was only a moment after that the sirens, like police sirens, began to sound. A robotic voice, like the voice of God, spoke through the corner speakers: “Intruder alert! Intruder alert! All hands on deck! Ev97

Darwen Amos ery officer is ordered to annihilate intruders according to Process 1283984A subsection JRIWURJN8. I repeat, Intruder alert! Intruder alert! All hands on deck! Every officer is ordered to annihilate intruders according to Process 1283984A subsection JRIWURJN8…” As if woken from a trance, each of the seated officers in their white hazmat suits stood up and unholstered their guns. No doubt they had already forgotten their old friends, and would do anything they could to kill those they had once loved. “Fire at will! Fire at will!” screamed the blaring robotic voice, so loudly that the speakers crackled. The multitude of hypnotized officers drew their guns and pointed them towards the three intruders… “Fire at will! Fire at will! Anyone who does not fire at this time will receive a pay cut! I repeat, Fire at will! Fire at will! Anyone who does not fire at this time will receive a pay cut!” “No!” shouted Officer Saffron, who had just snapped out of her trance, due to the purity of her mind. “Don’t you remember our old friends?” Her voice was muffled by the mask she was forced to wear. Officer Saffron was a hot twenty-one-year-old policewoman who had had a crush on Reynolds ever since elementary school, though Reynolds was always too busy in his work to notice the beautiful woman who always stared at him, especially considering that Reynolds had a wife and kids. She was descended from the princess of an ancient Sumerian island; as a result, she had many unusual physical features, but somehow was still hot. Although she was hot, and everybody often told her so, she always modestly denied it and refused to believe it. Some people did not tell her she was hot, but they were only jealous of 98

An Unlikely Death her beauty. Of course, Officer Saffron herself did not know this. She had small but full lips, and a thin body. But in the bulky suit and gas mask she was wearing, her well-toned and lean body was hidden, as was her melodious voice, which sounded like a meadowlark’s, and her face, which had cool intelligent blue searching eyes and long blond hair. Her form-fitting policewoman’s outfit was hidden under her biohazard suit, negating even that appeal. Considering that a woman’s advantage is entirely in physical seduction, she was not very persuasive. The other masked officers, not even hearing her, opened fire. Bang bang bang! The dreaded words, that of bullets, were heard by the three officers, none of whom had any body armor, kevlar, or bulletproof vestments on. “Duck!” shouted Reynolds, pressing down on the heads of Stevens and Edwards so that they were covered from the fire by a desk. “This is just a wooden desk,” said Officer Stevens. “It won’t protect us from squat!” “It hides our visibility!” yelled Officer Reynolds. “Hey, I still got some bullets in my gun!” said Officer Edwards. “I think I can take them out!” “Don’t be a fool!” said Reynolds. “There’s tens of them, and how many are there of you? Last time I checked, ten to one odds are not a good bet to make!” “We have to take a chance!” said Edwards. “It’s our only chance!” “No!” said Stevens and Reynolds simultaneously. But it was too late… Edwards, reloading his gun and cocking back the shoulder trigger, suddenly stood up from behind the desk and pointed his gun at the multitude of opponents. His 99

Darwen Amos wide body made a juicy target. The entranced officers, finally having a target, began unloading their clips into Edwards’s head, neck, shoulders and stomach, not giving even Edwards a chance to fire back. For Stevens and Reynolds, who were still crouched behind the desk, it was as if everything were going in slow motion. The bullets slammed into Edwards’s portly body. The first bullet took him in the throat, directly above Edwards’s bulletproof vest. In slow motion, a globule of blood, like a beach ball eternally suspended between the two throwers of time, broke out from Edwards’s neck and hung in the air in a perfect sphere of red. Then, it seemed to return to its fluid state and splash down over Reynolds’s face. In his horror, Reynolds did not react even to this. His eyes were on Officer Edwards’s wide back, out of which sudden small explosions of red seemed to burst out like popcorn cooking in a microwave. The bullets hitting Edwards’s body made a star pattern, at first in puncture marks, then highlighted by the lovely red that flowed out from Edwards’s veins. Blood splashed everywhere. Suddenly, Edwards was shot in the forehead and a small black circle appeared there like a third eye. Then, after a gaping exit wound like a cavern appeared at the back of his head, the gray matter and blood that had occupied his skull flowed like a vomiting waterfall into Reynolds’s mouth, which was agape in terror. Edwards, however, remained standing for a while, still pointing his gun, as if he were still going to make a last stand. Then, from Edwards’s body language, it seemed that he had decided against it – it was too much effort. Edwards’s shoulders gave a shrug, and his arms went limp. He dropped the gun to the floor in a clatter. As more bullets sailed through his body, Edwards seemed resigned and, giving up, fell backwards 100

An Unlikely Death onto Reynolds and Stevens like a man collapsing into bed. The dead Edwards slammed into the two crouching officers, crashing them to the floor. He did not look like a dead man, but peaceful, like a innocent boy gone to sleep. The heavy weight of the bloodstained body was oppressive to the two officers, and for a moment they did not even move. The sticky blood, like molasses, trickled not only out of the many holes in Edwards’s body, but also from his lolling mouth. One bullet had even struck him directly in the center of one of his eyes, and now it looked like a pirate patch belonged there, an ugly cave of black. His face was so pocked and caved in that it resembled the face of a man with the worst case of acne scars ever. His moustache, however, had not been touched, and like a paper towel it was hard at work sopping up the blood running into it from the eye socket. His liquefied brain matter oozed out from his head in a puddle onto the floor, and his body twitched spasmodically for a moment, then was still. Suddenly, as if waking up from a nightmare, Officer Stevens grabbed Reynolds’s shoulder. “It’s no good,” he said. “let’s get out of here.” “But…”said Reynolds, “what about Edwards?” “Edwards is dead,” Stevens said, a kindness in his voice. “It’s just you and me now. The police station is no longer our home. We have to get out to where it’s safe.” “Edwards…” repeated Reynolds. “Hey, Stevens… why would they… why would they kill Edwards…?” Stevens shook his head in exasperation. There were still bullets whizzing like small helicopters through the air. The alarms were still blaring, and the white room flashed red and white in intervals. “We’ll talk later,” said Stevens, 101

Darwen Amos grabbing Reynolds and propping him up into a seated position. Stevens didn’t have time for this. The shooting stopped. Apparently the masked officers had run out of ammo. The air was filled with the efficient sound of forty officers loading new clips into their weapons. “Now!” said Stevens, grabbing Reynolds by the hand. Stevens, pulling the dazed Reynolds along by the hand, propelled himself out of the station doors. Hailing a taxi, which miraculously happened to be just passing by, he pulled open the door, pushed Reynolds in, and jumped in after. “Where to?” said the taxi driver. Stevens looked at his shoulder, which was covered with a patch of blood, spreading like algae. It was not Edwards’s blood, but his own. While he had been trying to shake Reynolds into his senses, he had been grazed by a stray bullet and suffered a flesh wound. At least it looked like a flesh wound. It only now began to sting, throbbing along with his heartbeat. All in all, it was a miracle they were not dead. He sighed, and started to shiver. “Anywhere,” said Stevens to the taxi driver. “Just take us anywhere… away from this place. Far, far away.”

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Chapter Eight Showdown

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hat?!” screamed Officer Saffron, in hysterics. “What?! What the hell were you doing?! What the hell did you do?!” The police station was riddled with bullet holes. Behind a toppled desk near the doors, a small river of blood ominously flowed from an unseen source. The other officers, waking up from their shared trance, shook their heads in confusion. “Huh?” said one of them. “Hey,” said another, “where’s that blood coming from?” “That,” said Officer Saffron, “is the blood of the person who you just murdered! It’s Officer Edwards!” “What?” said one of the officers, stupidly. “I don’t remember that.” “That’s just it!” cried Officer Saffron. “You’re all crazy! You’ve forgotten everything! Your sense of 103

Darwen Amos justice… everything! That’s it! I’m leaving! I quit, you hear me?!” She defiantly began to walk toward the door, which was still open from when Stevens had left a moment before. As she was about to cross the threshold, she crashed into a somewhat fat body. Taken aback, she looked at the man who had just entered, a blonde, unpleasant-looking middle-aged man. It was Mr. James. “Well, well,” he said jauntily. “Where are you off to in such a hurry?” Mr. James’s young secretary entered a moment after. He was carrying a small suitcase. “I’m getting out of here,” said Officer Saffron nervously. “Please excuse me.” “You’re not excused,” said Mr. James, his face souring into a sneer. He made a gesture to his secretary. The secretary looked at him questioningly. Mr. James nodded. The young secretary stepped forward, showing no emotion. He looked at the police woman and shook his head, in a movement of utter negation. Though it was a movement of utter negation, his manner was inexplicably consoling. Seeing the way that he opened the small suitcase, which she now saw was a medical kit, she felt immediately comforted, as if he was a medicine shaman who was going to fix all that was wrong with her heart and body, with but the simple implements in that box. She looked at the secretary’s face. Not only was he consoling, he was handsome, too. With his slender frame and endearing angular face, he looked exactly like a young boy any young girl could dream about. And, excitingly, there were points of cruelty too, in the exact centers of his sharp blue eyes. But he paid no attention to her. 104

An Unlikely Death Instead, the young secretary had been putting on sterile white rubber gloves. Finishing, he snapped the second glove on his right wrist with a effete flourish. For the first time he looked into Saffron’s eyes. She became fixed in place. “You don’t seem to be taking to my medicine,” said the young secretary, in a soft tone. He spoke as if addressing a kitten, or another small animal that was helpless. “But don’t worry about a thing. I’ve got just the dose for you.” Saying this, he swiftly seized Officer Saffron’s arm, without giving her time to respond. Deftly pulling back the plastic of her radiation suit, he swabbed the exposed spot on her arm with a cotton pad soaked in cold alcohol, then inserted a syringe and a needle, which she had not seen, into one of her exposed veins. He depressed the plunger. The serum flowed… The drug took effect almost instantaneously. Already Officer Saffron was losing consciousness… The world became blurred. Tired, she decided to take a seat on the floor. Sleepiness overcame her… The last thing she saw from her prone position was the person of the young secretary putting away the syringe neatly in his medical kit. Then her eyes closed. “I should have gone to medical school,” murmured the young secretary, as if to himself. His voice sounded distant and far-off. But Officer Saffron wasn’t actually listening. Already her blood had begun to congeal… “Might as well reinoculate the rest of them,” sighed Mr. James. “We don’t want any more like her.” “Yes, sir.” The young secretary nodded, and approached the next officer with his syringe… 105

Darwen Amos *** The taxi wove its way around the traffic of Los Angeles. “Hey, watch it, buddy,” said the taxi driver, who had seen the bleeding Stevens in his rear mirror. “You’re bleeding all over my seats. Granted, they’re already dirty, but hey, what do you want from me? What are you, my mother?” “You can stop here,” said Officer Stevens. “Good thing,” said the taxi driver, “that way you bleed less on the seat. That will be five dollars.” Officer Stevens gave him a ten. “Keep the change,” he said. He opened the door and, with Reynolds, who was a little better now, exited onto the street. “Where are we?” asked Reynolds. “Compton,” said Stevens. “What?” exclaimed Reynolds, “b-but!” “Just kidding pal,” said Stevens. “As you can see, although I’m hurt, I still retain my sense of humor. They hate cops in Compton. Actually, we are at the Los Angeles airport.” “Oh,” said Reynolds. “We going back to Florida?” “Looks like it,” said Stevens. “But I’ll have to get this looked at.” He pointed at his right shoulder. “Nah, it’s just a flesh wound,” said Reynolds. “What are you - a doctor now?” said Stevens, smirking. Sharing this inside joke, both officers laughed, friends once more. Stevens, however, began to cough blood. When Reynolds got a worried face, Stevens, still paled, clapped him on the back and laughed, trying to pass it off as a joke. But really, he was hurt bad. 106

An Unlikely Death “We can’t go yet,” said Reynolds. “We’ve got to get you to a hospital.” Stevens started to protest, but began coughing again. Splatters of black blood hit the concrete surface of the sidewalk in thick, congealed splashes. “Just lean on me,” said Reynolds, propping up Stevens against him. “The hospital’s not far.” The hospital was not far indeed. From the airport, one could see it. It would be a walk of only ten minutes or so, though Reynolds would have to bear his partner’s weight. But Reynolds was strong. They left a trail of blood. But in ten minutes, they were already inside the hospital. The hospital next to the Los Angeles Airport was one of the four hospitals in the United States that had not been destroyed and replaced by an FBI outpost. It was swamped with the sick and dying. One quarter of people requiring medical attention made a pilgrimage here. When Officer Reynolds entered the hospital, with Officer Stevens leaning on him like a drunk man, his eyes met with a distressing sight that almost made him despair and lose hope. The hospital was in a chaos. People were rolled on gurneys this way and that. All the Emergency rooms were occupied and even seriously sick and injured people were made to wait. Nurses and doctors wore worried looks on their faces and they rushed about. Forms were done away with. Insurance did not exist. The medical staff was working entirely out of altruism. When Reynolds came up to the counter, and insisted that Stevens be treated, he was met with a distracted shake of the head by the attending nurse, and told to take a number. He did. The number was 107

Darwen Amos 4597. “Patient 3599. The doctor will see you now.” said the attendant nurse over the speaker. An old man, coughing, rose from his seat. In a struggling walk, he followed a nurse into an examination room. Reynolds felt restless. Stevens was losing blood fast. Reynolds looked around frantically. Suddenly, a sound of a landing helicopter seemed to whirl in his ears, gradually growing louder. It was probably his imagination. He ignored it. Then he heard, over all the noise of the hospital, the entrance door opening. Turning, he saw a slender young doctor, dressed in fresh scrubs and carrying a medical kit, heading directly for him. Beyond him, outside the window, was indeed a landed helicopter. The young doctor quickly approached Reynolds, and knelt down next to Stevens. “Your friend doesn’t look so good,” he said. “Yes,” said Reynolds, “he’s losing blood fast.” The doctor drew closer to Stevens’s wound. He drew a scalpel out of the medical kit and poked it sharply into the wound. Stevens grimaced in pain. “You’re right,” said the doctor. “It looks bad, but I can fix it. I need you to come with me to the helicopter. Both of you. I’ll take you to my private clinic.” The doctor’s manner and voice, though young, seemed entirely in control, and were both reassuring to Reynolds, who did not suspect a thing. When the doctor put his hand on his shoulder, Reynolds followed, with Stevens not far behind, to the helicopter outside the hospital. The helicopter was white, with a large red cross painted neatly on its side. Though it was not turned on, the blades were still spinning down to a stop from when it had last been in flight. 108

An Unlikely Death “In here,” said the young doctor, motioning Reynolds and Stevens into the back seat. Tears of gratefulness in his eyes, Reynolds obeyed. Then, the young doctor climbed into the cockpit and started the vehicle. The helicopter began to hover, then rise slowly into the air. “Don’t worry about a thing,” said the young doctor, with a sunny smile… The helicopter was in flight over the Appalachian mountains. Officer Stevens had lost consciousness. The young doctor, humming a tune to himself, seemed not to be in a hurry. “How far’s this clinic of yours?” said Reynolds. “It’s not far.” “Well, do you think you can hurry it up a li-” Reynolds’s words were cut short by a tranquilizer dart to the neck which, at the press of a button on the control board by the doctor, had emerged from the back of his seat. Reynolds slumped forward. The doctor, who was really the young secretary of Mr. James, reported in via radio. “I’ve got them Mr. James, and they’re on their way to Florida as we speak.” “Perfect,” responded Mr. James. “Let’s see if General Stathem’s boy is as good as he’s supposed to be.” “About that, sir. I’m not so sure. I trust that he is, but if you’d like, I can stay behind and if things go wrong…” “Nonsense. If McDaniel fails, it’s on Stathem’s head. In any case, I like a challenge. Let Reynolds’s survive and try to find me. I respect my enemies enough for that.” “Well sir, that is certainly your right. But I’m sure they’ll die… Hello. I see the Florida Mountains straight 109

Darwen Amos ahead.” “Very good. Drop them off at the designated point.” “Yes sir,” said the young secretary. A mile later, with the sound of bees, the helicopter began to descend into the marsh, a few meters away from a totalled patrol car… McDaniel, awake, was waiting on the rooftop of the marsh hut owned by Officer Stevens. On the marsh ground, Shing-Lao, the ever-alert German Shepard, had his ears pricked in defiance of the world. Suddenly, Shing-Lao barked. McDaniel sensed the helicopter a few seconds before he heard it. And he heard it a few seconds before he saw it. And then he saw it. The helicopter was descending into the marsh. When it was about two meters from the ground the door opened, and McDaniel saw a hand roughly push out two forms, that of an unconscious Stevens and Reynolds, who was just waking up from his tranquilizer dream. He expected more, but the helicopter’s door simply closed and it began to rise up into the air and off the other way without even a hello. But he knew that General Stathem’s text message had been accurate. Shing-Lao was ready to attack. He was a loyal dog. Why are dogs so loyal to human beings? It’s a matter of evolution. A long time ago, most dogs did not like human beings. One day a dog was born that had the trait of loving human beings. And since human beings had the only food at the time, all the rest of the dogs died out. ShingLao, and each dog of today, was descended from this first, loyal dog. All love and loyalty, even in human nature, and in fact all social interaction, is unquestionably the result 110

An Unlikely Death of this kind of evolution. The prone forms of Officer Reynolds and Stevens were on the ground. So, thought McDaniel, the prey had been delivered to the hunter… It was 6:00 PM. Officer Reynolds opened his eyes. He shook his head to regain his consciousness. He examined the world around him. As the blurry world around him began to come into focus, a marshy landscape laid itself open before his watching eyes. No, this wasn’t good enough. He could tell that it was a marsh, but he did not yet know that it was the familiar area he had occupied a few days before with his good friend Officer Stevens, who was right now unconscious next to him. And he saw something like a brown ball heading towards him, but did not recognize it to be a fierce German Shepard, who had caught his track and was about to sink its teeth into his neck. Reynolds was not aware of any danger. But something of his logic, which worked even in a drug haze, had survived, and he reached into his pocket for the syringe he always kept with him. This syringe was filled with adrenaline, standard issue to LAPD, to be used for just such emergencies. Choosing a vein in his neck, Reynolds slammed the syringe in and depressed the plunger. His reason and clarity came rushing back to him. It was as if the world he had been looking at until that moment had been an analog television signal, and he had just switched to a digital signal. In high definition, he saw the marsh around him. Every tree, ominous puddle, and sound of crocodiles became electrically amplified in his perception. The blue sky gave him courage. The howling 111

Darwen Amos wind gave him anger. And the fire in his breast made his blood boil. Suddenly, he realized that the blurred creature rushing toward him was a dog - a hungry, ravenous dog, out for his death and blood. It came running, running, running. Furthermore, he recognized the dog immediately as LAPD’s top drug- and bomb-sniffing canine, the one which was looked after very carefully by one Officer Patrick McDaniel. The adrenaline did more than simply make him more alert. It also made him think himself invincible. He leapt to his feet, imagining that the impact of his feet hitting the ground had caused a giant earthquake and cracks were rapidly splitting in the earth. His blood, sluggish only a moment before, surged through his body like thundering tides. He became intensely aware of his muscles and the exact speed and angle at which the dog was heading for him. As Shing-Lao hurtled toward him at tremendous speed, Reynolds thought, “Bring it on, bitch!” He was prepared. He was impatient. When the dog got within arm’s reach, he would tear its throat out and eat its heart. Shing-Lao, however, did not slow down. The dog, following its training, headed in the path of least resistance. Because of the various foliage and obstacles in the marsh, it was not necessarily a straight line, but even while avoiding the various rocks and plants on the ground, Shing-Lao was quickly building up momentum. Now it was less than two meters away from Reynolds. When Reynolds tried to reach down and grab the dog by its neck and strangle it, Shing-Lao suddenly swerved from its predicted path. Reynolds was taken aback for just a moment. But in that moment, Shing-Lao had already left the officer’s field of vision and, from a blind spot at Reynolds’s right, had lunged into the air, aiming its teeth at his 112

An Unlikely Death Adam’s apple. Reynolds couldn’t sidestep it. But out of some instinct born of pure confidence, he made a jerking motion to the right with his shoulder, that simply “felt right.” ShingLao, rather than sinking its teeth into Reynolds’s throat, instead slammed into the officer’s shoulder. Reynolds held his ground. His solid body repelled Shing-Lao and, the dog’s sensitive nose slammed into his shoulder. Giving a surprised yelp, the dazed Shing-Lao fell hard to the ground and was momentarily confused, shaking its head to gain its bearings. Taking advantage of his sudden advantage, Reynolds saw a stick on the ground, which had apparently fallen off a marsh tree. Grabbing it, he threw it over into a marsh pond about ten meters away, next to what seemed to be a log. “Fetch!” he said. Shing-Lao, seeing the wide arc circumscribed by the stick, seemed to be in debate about whether to continue its assault or fetch the stick. In the end, its dog instincts won out. It raced after the stick. It had almost reached the stick and was about to eat it when, out of the pond, a great splash appeared. It was a marsh crocodile, the mother of the crocodile which had almost murdered Reynolds. With a hungry glint in its eyes, the great crocodile lunged at Shing-Lao and ate it. As it chewed, Reynolds at first heard a few yelps. Then a flood of blood emerged from the crocodile’s mouth like a waterfall. The pained yelps stopped. Pieces of dog’s flesh dropped out from the gator’s gaping maw. The crocodile, satisfied, halfway submerged once again into water, becoming a log once more. Reynolds pumped his fist in triumph.

113

Darwen Amos *** McDaniel, a distance away on the rooftop, frowned. He was not so upset about Shing-Lao, who he knew had been a good dog and would be reincarnated as a human being. Perhaps in his next life Shing-Lao might find that crucial knowledge to forever escape this floating world, this cycle of desire and pain we call the world. But he was somewhat upset that Reynolds had been so lucky that a crocodile had coincidentally been near the spot he had thrown the stick. It was only a small thing, but still pretty annoying. He hoisted his sniper rifle from the strap on his shoulder, aimed it, and looked through the scope. With a few economical movements, he had Officer Reynolds in his sights. All that was left was to pull the trigger… Suddenly, a hawk, which had been flying over the marsh, looked down and saw the overhead view of the rifle. Thinking the rifle was prey, it swooped down at it with its claws outstretched, making a bestial cry of triumph. The hawk slammed into the rifle, knocking it out of McDaniel’s grasp. McDaniel, enraged, grabbed at the hawk, which flew out of his reach. In doing so, he lost his balance, teetered for a moment, then fell ten meters from the roof, landing with a thud on the hard ground on his side, breaking his right arm. The hawk, realizing that it had made a mistake, flew away, embarrassed. Nature had offered a helping hand in a moment of need. Reynolds heard the noise of McDaniel’s body hitting the floor. He turned. Seeing the prone McDaniel nursing his arm, he took his advantage and rushed at the fallen enemy. McDaniel leapt to his feet. Reynolds was rushing him, quarterback-style, either out of bravery or stupidity. 114

An Unlikely Death Though McDaniel had broken his good right arm in the fall, his left arm was fine, and he had plenty of time to prepare. When Reynolds got close enough, McDaniel punched him in the face with a left hook, knocking Reynolds to the floor. Not wanting to kick a man when he was down, he waited as Reynolds clumsily tried to get to his feet. During the wait, he tried to snap his broken bones back into place. The effort was unsuccessful, though very painful. McDaniel grimaced and almost cried out. The fallen Reynolds stood up. He was seething, his rage coming out in a thick visible vapor from his mouth. “Have a knuckle sandwich, you brown-nosing mudsucker!” cried Reynolds, propelling his right fist at McDaniel’s head. McDaniel grabbed the approaching fist in mid air with his left hand, and clamped with all his might. The crackling of Reynolds’s knuckles filled the air. Reynolds roared in abject pain and anger. Still holding the officer’s closed fist, McDaniel kicked Reynolds in the stomach. Normally, the force of McDaniel’s boot would have knocked Reynolds back, but as McDaniel held the outstretched fist tightly in his grip, his opponent remained within range. He was able to kick the stomach area again. And again. And again. “Oof! Oof! Oof!” cried Reynolds, his saliva spraying out of his mouth with each expression of pain. Suddenly, McDaniel, like a professional wrestler, twisted Reynolds’s arm at an angle, displacing it from its socket. Reynolds yelled, the loudest outcry that had taken place in this battle so far. McDaniel did not grin. His eyes were focused on the eyes of his enemy. Still gripping Reynolds’s hand, he slammed his forehead into Reynolds’s, knocking the good officer out. He let go. Reynolds fell to the ground, uncon115

Darwen Amos scious… Evil had won once again. McDaniel, putting his hand to his forehead as if he had a migraine, looked at his fallen opponent. Though it could be said that he had once felt hatred toward this officer, the sight aroused nothing in him. What was this “thrill of victory” he always heard about? At the same time, what was the “agony of defeat?” He didn’t know. He turned his back to Reynolds. He began to walk towards his rifle, laying on the ground, to recover it. Then he would return to the patrol car and report in to General Stathem. The general would be pleased. By this time Reynolds was slowly recovering his consciousness. But a few meters back, Officer Stevens was doing the same… Officer Stevens opened his eyes. The blurry world slowly came into focus. Since he was more familiar with this area than Reynolds, he knew where he was. He saw Reynolds lying on the floor. A few meters away, the form of Officer McDaniel was headed somewhat in his direction, toward the patrol car. Stevens knew what he had to do. He reached into his pocket, where he kept his police-issue pistol. Groaning, he removed it, aimed it carelessly at the approaching figure, then fired. The bullet hit McDaniel in the throat and soared through the other side. A clear cry of pain pierced the air. It was a voice Stevens had never heard, that of Officer McDaniel. He fought to keep his eyes open. Watching the upright figure of McDaniel, which seemed as unsubstantial as a shadow, he felt a kind of indifferent nervousness. Then, as McDaniel, clutching at his throat where he had been shot with his left 116

An Unlikely Death hand, fell face-first into the ground, Stevens exhaled. He had been holding his breath for who knows how long… A stream of blood, running from McDaniel’s gurgling throat, mixed into the muddy water of the marsh, spreading like red India ink in water… Officer Stevens unsteadily got to his feet, then began to walk towards McDaniel’s fallen body… Officer McDaniel’s body lay face down in the marsh. When Stevens imagined the bubbling muck of the marsh slowly seeping into McDaniel’s pores, he felt nauseated. With his foot, he turned the body over. He was planning on respectfully closing McDaniel’s eyes, if they happened to be open. If truth be told, Stevens did not feel entirely comfortable with his action, which to him was akin to shooting someone in the back. The old Stevens might have done so, but the new, improved Stevens had morally moved beyond betrayal. McDaniel’s eyes were indeed closed. Stevens sighed. Mid-sigh, however, Stevens’s sigh transformed into a gasp. The closed eyes he had been looking at suddenly opened. McDaniel was alive. But it was scary because Stevens had originally believed him to be dead… Officer McDaniel opened his eyes. Hoping to see the radiant stream of Nirvana he had so often dreamed of, he was met with something much more unpleasant. He saw the face of Officer Stevens bending over him. And the feeling of his blood leaving his body through the hole in his throat confirmed McDaniel’s suspicion that he still continued to exist, though probably not for long… He had phantom limb syndrome. It wasn’t as if, like in normal cases of this disease, he imagined that he had a 117

Darwen Amos limb where there was none, because he actually retained all his limbs. But as he lifted his left arm upwards, he felt as if he were staying still. It was as if “a phantom” had lifted the arm for him. He looked at his left wrist, where there was a watch. It was now 6:15. The twentieth anniversary of his vow of silence had passed exactly one minute ago. His vow of silence had ended. Lifting his head with pain, he beckoned over Officer Stevens. And he said something at moment of death to Stevens: “You… Stevens… you traitor…” His voice came wheezing, much of the volume expelled through the hole in his neck. But Stevens heard. With that, Officer McDaniel pressed his blood-covered hand on Stevens's cheek. There was a look of passionate hatred on McDaniel's face as it fell back on the concrete. His eyes closed, and McDaniel died. Stevens remained knelt, as if in deep thought. He stood up, slightly trembling, unholstered his revolver, and fired the two remaining chambers into McDaniel's already dead skull. McDaniel’s head twitched twice in succession. More blood seeped into the mud but it was useless, for McDaniel had already died. Officer Reynolds, having regained his consciousness, had been sitting all this while in a daze. He had seen this death scene in its entirety. Office Stevens returned, wiping his bloody face with a handkerchief. This did not work, and instead only served to smear the blood across his cheeks. “What did he say?” Reynolds asked. Stevens shook his head… “I couldn't catch him. He 118

An Unlikely Death was just mumbling.” His voice seemed uncharacteristically serious, perhaps due to his loss of blood. Stevens looked out over the swampy water. Just at that moment, a wayward dragonfly, which had been flitting around the marsh, flew past the two officers, and reflected in the deep pools of Stevens's eyes.

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Chapter Nine Highway Battle

N

ow…” said Mr. James, through a megaphone. “Phase Omega is about to start…” Mr. James, the evil kingpin, was standing atop the roof of the Omega FBI Building, wearing a tailored white suit. His blond hair glinted in the sunlight like a sharp knife, and turned almost blindingly white. His demonic face was grinning like a shark’s. This building had been completed only one hour ago, and already it was filled with the various soldiers and assassins now in the employ of Mr. James. All the soldiers and assassins that had originally belonged to the FBI, the US Navy, all police departments, all security companies, bank security officers, Green Berets, and every other corporation in the world were now gathered either in the large parking lot under the huge building atop which Mr. James now spoke, or in the said building. At the forefront of this gatheration was General Stath120

An Unlikely Death em, surrounded by a great battalion of tanks, battleships, and fighter jets. Loyally following Mr. James, who paid him $50,000 a month, General Stathem was really to fire his entire battle force at the slightest dissidence among any of the soldiers. He did not believe that his own soldiers would betray Mr. James, but who knew about the rest of those army brats and rabble. He was in a surly mood. He had just received the message from Mr. James’s secretary that his best man, Officer McDaniel had died in his battle with Reynolds. Damned if Officer McDaniel wasn’t going to get a proper policeman’s send-off! Every one of these soldiers would personally fire a shot in the clouds to commemorate McDaniel, the most loyal and skilled policeman of the last decade! After Mr. James’s coronation, General Stathem would send his second and third best man to recover McDaniel’s body, which presently languished somewhere in the Florida marshes. “We will be going forward,” shouted Mr. James, “with the Magnetron improvement program. Of course, this will require a dangerous mission by NASA once again to equip the satellite with more upgrades, but the deaths of astronauts is a risk I am willing to take. My scientific team, headed by my young secretary, has discovered a new type of magnet. Not only can this magnet attract metal, it can also attract human flesh! Not only human flesh, but also any other mineral, animal flesh, as well as various radio and television signals. Of course, the primary use for this new magnet will be human flesh. Imagine how much better America’s transportation system will be once this is done. In any case, I thought I’d tell you all about this new development, as part of the Information Act which I have just amended to the Bill of Rights. After it is done, we will be moving on the Phase Omega-Alpha, 121

Darwen Amos in which he move political dissidents to an isolated island in the South Seas. This will be done by magnetism, of course.” A great applause went through the ocean of people like a neap tide. Some, of course, were uncertain about the new improvements to Magnetron, and what it would mean for society, but, knowing that failing to applaud might invite the soldiers of General Stathem to train their weapons at them, they clapped their hands obediently… In the Florida marshes, Officer Stevens dropped to his knees. No one had fixed the hole in his shoulder, from where a lot of blood was coming out. Officer Reynolds and Stevens were stranded in the middle of nowhere in Florida. They might as well be dead. A flock of vultures, sensing incumbent death, flew in circles around the two officers. A little earlier they had already picked McDaniel’s body clean to the bones. That had been lunch. Now they wanted supper. Suddenly a bright idea came to Reynolds. He crawled over to McDaniel’s body, naught but a skeleton now. Riffling through the pocket’s on the deceased man, he came upon what he had been looking for. Yes! They were there! The keys to McDaniel’s patrol car. He went back to Stevens. “Hey,” he said. “Mmwhat?” mumbled Stevens. “I found the keys to McDaniel’s patrol cruiser. The car itself looks pretty banged up, but it still might work. Let’s get out of here.” “No,” slurred Stevens. “Leave me behind. I’m dying, and I don’t want to be any trouble.” “No!” shouted Reynolds. “You must come with me. 122

An Unlikely Death Let’s take down the FBI, you and I. This isn’t the end of our friendship!” “No,” agreed Stevens. “It is not the end of our friendship, for I shall always remain your friend. But it is the end of one of the partners in the friendship. I’m dying, leave me be.” Stevens then fell unconscious. Reynolds tried to drag Stevens into the car, but in his weakened state wasn’t strong enough. He got into the patrol car by himself. He put the key in its ignition, and turned. “Yes!” The car started. “I’ll come back with help!” he yelled to Stevens. Stevens could not hear him. Pressing the vehicle accelerator pedal of the patrol car hardly with his foot, Reynolds sped his way back to Los Angeles, the City of Angels… The coronation ended. The various soldiers and security guards gathered on the parking lot started going home to their wives and children, wanting to have a cold beer and relax while watching television. However, two of them were stopped by the corpulent hand of General Stathem. “Just a minute there,” said General Stathem, his mustache twitching. “Yes, what is it?” asked one of the men, named Officer Thompson. “I have a little task for you. I want you to head up to Florida, and pick up the body of Officer McDaniel. It’s pretty important.” “Sure, boss, but will the Magnetron take us?” “Hmm,” said Stathem. “I don’t know. I don’t want to ask Mr. James, because this is a personal chore for me, 123

Darwen Amos not official FBI business. Wouldn’t want to bother him. So my answer will have to be no.” “Yes sir,” said Thompson. “We will return immediately.” “Hold on,” said General Stathem, hesitating. “Perhaps I shouldn’t put too much of a burden on you young fellows. After all, it is a personal task, not an official business. So yes, I’ll head over with you fellows. I know the way to Florida. I’ve been there many times for vacation.” “Yes sir,” said the other man, named Officer Briggs. “Will you be taking your police SUV?” “Hmm,” said Stathem. “I wouldn’t think so. No, I think I’ll take my Hummer. It’s slower, but more able to weather the harsh conditions. Thompson, take the Hellhawk fighter jet and watch the air for me. And Briggs, I want you to take the Sharkfighter submarine. That way we can approach Florida in a three-pronged pitchfork. If one of us doesn’t make it by air or by sea, we will get to Florida by land.Do you understand?” “Yes sir,” said Officer Thompson and Briggs, saluting their commander. “Well,” said Stathem. “Let’s get to it.” The three men headed towards their respective vehicles… The Hellhawk fighter jet, piloted by Officer Thompson, sped its way to Florida. The weather was good, no clouds altering visibility. At the same time, General Stathem headed on the 405-South in his Hummer, which took up three of the lanes. And underwater, Briggs’s submarine was on its way across to Florida. Coming from the other direction, of course, was the pa124

An Unlikely Death trol car driven by Officer Reynolds. If he headed in the way he was currently going, he would be in a direct collision course with General Stathem’s tank… “Uh oh,” thought Reynolds, looking at the gas gauge. “I need gas.” The gas gauge read that there was not enough gas in the car. There was even a flashing orange symbol of a gas can, signifying as much. This was to the right of the circle which told the driver how fast he was going. Reynolds was going pretty fast. He had underestimated the gas loss. In fact, when a few days ago the patrol car had been dropped so ignominiously into the marshlands by the Magnetron satellite, it had suffered some damage to the bottom of its gas tank. Specifically, there was now a small hole which continually leaked a small stream of gas, whether the car was running or no. Because Reynolds had not considered this problem, he now found himself in a sticky situation. “Next Exit: Barstow.” claimed a green sign on the side of the freeway. Yes!, thought Reynolds. I’ll get off at this exit, drive to town, and then “fill ‘em up,” as they say in the South. Problem solved. He drove a little further. There was another sign that read, “Exit Here to get off on Barstow: 1/4 miles.” He traveled the quarter mile and exited off the offramp. Indeed, there was a gas station in this small burg. It was a Shell Station. Reynolds parked his car next to a unoccupied Self-Serve pump, because he did not want to pay extra money for Full Service, in which a gas station attendant comes out and fills your car up with gas for you. 125

Darwen Amos That option was strictly for the lazy and the rich, and Reynolds was neither. Reynolds got out of his car, but not before pressing the button that makes the gas cap door outwards. Then he closed his car door. Having done so, he removed the gas pump from its stile, untwisted the gas cap until it was hanging by a white cord, inserted the pump into the new hole, and depressed the trigger of the gas pump. He watched the monitor which tells the customer how much gas is being filled and how much it would cost. When he filled his car up to the hilt with gas, he heard a click on the gas pump’s trigger. Reynolds knew that even if he tried, he would be unable to insert more gas into his car, since it was now full. He replaced the gas cap cover and put the pump back in its stile. Then he swiped his credit card in the slot and accepted the payment. He contemplated going inside the gas station mini-mart to pick up some snacks and then decided against it. Returning to the car and closing the door, he found that his gas gauge now read, as expected, as “Full.” Then he started his car with his key and returned to the freeway. Soon he was once again on the 405-South, returning to his old haunt, Los Angeles… At the same time, General Stathem’s Hummer, flanked in the air by Thompson’s jet and in the sea by Brigg’s submarine, headed from Los Angeles towards Florida on the 405-North… A few hours passed. Then, near Chicago, Officer Thompson spotted something from the air. 126

An Unlikely Death “I see a bogey on the southbound freeway,” reported Officer Thompson from the air to General Stathem through his radio. “You sure it’s a bogey?” asked Stathem, driving his Hummer. “Try to take a closer look.” “Yes sir,” said Thompson, as he piloted his fighter jet to the side to get a better look. “Actually,” he said. “Now that I can see it better, I see that it is not a bogey after all, but a patrol car. Yes… it looks like a patrol car.” “Well,” responded General Stathem. “I haven’t sent any of my officers on the southbound freeway, so you must be mistaken. There ain’t no way it’s a patrol car you’re seeing, pal. Check your prescription eyeglasses, I say.” “But sir,” said Thompson. “I am pretty sure it is as I first reported. It’s a patrol car. At any rate, it is a black and white car, with sirens on top. If that’s not a patrol car, then sir, with all due respect, you tell me what is.” “Very well soldier,” quipped Stathem. “It’s a patrol car. Why don’t you go in closer to see the number on the side? You know, that number that is on the side of police cars which tells you which officer is driving the car. It’s a slim hope, but perhaps it’s a number I recognize. Of course I can’t very well go around memorizing every number of every policeman and his car, but might as well take a stab at it.” “Yes sir,” said Thompson. “Obeying orders…” He maneuvered the fighter jet to the other side of the freeway, bearing down on it. He kept flying downward until he was side to side with the moving patrol car. He adjusted his speed to look at the number. “Sir…” he said. “The number looks like 4050. Do you recognize it?” Stathem gulped. Yes he recognized it. It was the num127

Darwen Amos ber of his dead officer, Officer Patrick McDaniel. He was not a believer in ghosts, but some things were too strange to be coincidences… Officer Reynolds, driving about, took a look out of his passenger side window. To his surprise, he saw the form of a black Hellhawk fighter jet, flying very low, and keeping pace with his car. And in that fighter jet was the masked face of someone he recognized… it was Officer Thompson, General Stathem’s third-hand man. Officer Thompson looked right back at him. In full view of Reynolds, he lifted his radio to his mouth and shouted: “Sir! It’s Reynolds. Should I kill him?” Reynolds clearly heard the response of General Stathem through the radio, shouting in excitement: “Yes, by all means! Take him out Thompson! Take him out and you just earned yourself a promotion my boy!” “Yes sir!” cried Officer Thompson, giving a salute. He removed from his shirt pocket a pistol and, turning, pointed it at Reynolds’s head. “Say goodbye, Reynolds,” he said, still expertly keeping pace in his jet with the speeding patrol car. Reynolds thought fast. Thompson was a skilled jet pilot. It didn’t matter whether he sped up or slowed down, Thompson would be able to keep pace. Thinking quickly, he veered his steering wheel sharply to the left, slamming the patrol car into the fighter jet at a tremendous speed… The impact was critical. Thompson, surprised, dropped his pistol out his window. The fighter jet, colliding with the patrol car, careened off wildly in the air to the side, 128

An Unlikely Death spinning like a Frisbee through the air. “Mayday, mayday!” shouted Thompson. The fighter jet crashed into the concrete lane divider of the freeway, exploding on impact. A great ball of fire exploded like a supernova in the air. For a moment, the world went pitch-white. Thompson was killed instantly. “Damn!” yelled General Stathem, who had seen the carnage from the other side of the freeway, the 405-North. But the explosion caused by Thompson’s plane crashing into the highway divider had created a large cave-mouthlike opening to drive through. An opening large enough to accommodate a Jeep Hummer… maybe. Thinking quickly, General Stathem drove through the opening. Now he was on the 405-South, a few car lengths behind the fleeing patrol car that had once belonged to McDaniel but was not being driven by Reynolds. Pressing the accelerator pedal with his foot, General Stathem gave chase after Reynolds… General Stathem grit his teeth. It was no good. A patrol car is faster than a Hummer. He couldn’t catch up to Reynolds. Something needed to be done to slow Reynolds down. He picked up his radio. “Briggs?” he shouted. “You there?” Underwater, Briggs had seen nothing of the excitement that had happened. The undersea world passed peacefully out of his window. He watched the tranquil fish swim by, surrounded by colorful reefs of coral. To his mind, Thompson was still alive. When he heard General Stathem’s voice asking if he was there, he jumped to attention. “Yes sir, what is it sir?” he said in an excited voice. 129

Darwen Amos ‘Well,” said General Stathem. “I want you to fire a heat-seeking missile. To these coordinates. Longitude 87, Latitude 10. Now!” “Yes sir,” said Officer Briggs. His eyes scanned the control panel until he found the button. Yes! There it was! With a distended finger he pressed the button and set the ordered coordinates… The back of the Sharkfighter submarine opened up. A missile was launched. This missile was whimsically painted to resemble the face of a grinning shark. Its possible effects, however, were far from whimsical. The missile soared up to the surface of the sea and broke the surface with a great splash. Rising high into the sky, the missile located its target. Seeing Officer Reynolds’s patrol car, the missile propelled itself at 100 miles an hour toward it, hoping to collide with it, explode, and take Officer Reynolds with it. “Beep beep!” shouted the onboard computer in Reynolds’s patrol car. “What is it, computer?” cried Reynolds, who was busy fleeing at 120 miles per hour from General Stathem. “A heat-seeking missile is headed for this car!” said the computer, in a female voice. “Warning!” Reynolds looked in his rear-view mirror. Sure enough, flying towards him and gaining, was the grinning face of a shark, painted on a heat-seeking missile. According to Reynolds’s calculations it would hit him within thirty seconds. Reynolds thought fast. Taking a deep breath, he said, 130

An Unlikely Death “Okay. Computer, reprogram heat-seeking missile to another target!” “To which target, sir?” asked the onboard computer. “Hmm,” thought Reynolds, rubbing his chin. “Take it back to the source.” “Yes sir,” shouted the computer. The computer, using every megabyte of its processing power, reprogrammed the missile to return to its source… The missile, in mid air, suddenly stopped. Then, as if thinking, it hung in the air, still grinning its toothy grin. Finally, it turned, and began heading at tremendous speeds back to the submarine where it had been launched from. Officer Briggs, in his submarine, was patting himself on the back for a job well done. Soon the missile would reach Reynolds and explode, earning him a brand-new promotion. He sighed, and sat back in his seat. He opened a magazine and began reading. He thought he heard a splash in the ocean’s surface above him. Shrugging, he returned to his magazine. Suddenly, his onboard computer spoke. “Warning!” said the submarine computer. “A missile is headed your way!” Officer Briggs jumped from his seat. He looked at the ceiling window. Yes… the missile, the very same missile that had been fired from his submarine a moment before, was headed straight for him through the water. He saw 131

Darwen Amos that shark-like grin… “Computer!” shouted Briggs. “Reprogram approaching missile to-” But it was too late. The missile hit the Sharkfighter submarine. A great explosion took place under water, killing Briggs. The explosion was so large in magnitude that a large splash appeared above the ocean’s surface, though the explosion had taken place underwater… “Damn!” shouted General Stathem, who had just heard the underwater explosion. His two men were dead. Now it was up to him. He looked at it as a blessing. He would be able to personally kill Reynolds, who he had hated even before he had hired him. “Let’s kick this up a notch!” shouted Stathem, as he pressed the nitrous oxide button. In response, the Hummer sped up to ridiculous speeds, 300 miles an hour. Soon it was right next to Reynolds’s patrol car. Stathem turned an angry face over to look at Reynolds. Reynolds looked back, smiled, and waved mockingly in an effeminate way. Stathem growled in anger. “Roar!” he scrawled. In his uppermost post of anger, General Stathem had the aptitude to become a true animal of the wild. General Stathem reached over to the passenger seat, and removed the rocket launcher he kept there. Hoisting it onto his shoulder, he aimed it at Reynolds. Reynolds’s eyes opened wide open in fear. Then, General Stathem’s rocket launcher fired. It missed, sailing clear of Reynolds’s car. Reynolds, putting down the passenger-side window and aiming his pistol, fired two shots at General Stathem’s window. They were a direct hit, but the Hummer had protective glass 132

An Unlikely Death windows. The bullets were of no avail, making only spider-web cracks on the unbreakable windows. General Stathem laughed in triumph. But he wasn’t laughing for long. Reynolds’s patrol car suddenly and unexpectedly swerved to the left, hitting the right bumper of the Hummer. The Hummer, an ungainly vehicle, spun out head to tail, rotating on the highway like a spinning roulette wheel. Good thing there were no other drivers on the road… Reynolds’s car sped up, trying to flee while the Hummer was still spinning. But General Stathem once again took up his rocket launcher and, while the car was still spinning, fired the last rocket. It was a last-ditch effort, something he had not really expected to work. But… The rocket bullet flew through the air… then it hit its target. It exploded Reynolds’s car and flipped it over. A giant fiery explosion sounded, and the patrol car was suddenly engulfed in flames. If there was any doubt that the patrol car wouldn’t work before, now that was certain. Stathem heard the explosion, though he did not see it, as his vehicle was spinning like a top. He laughed in triumph. The Hummer had stopped spinning. Dizzy, General Stathem parked his Hummer in the middle of the highway and walked out. He went over to check the burning wreckage of Reynolds’s patrol car, to see if Reynolds was alive, although that was doubtful. The fiery patrol car threw off noxious fumes from its wreckage. As Stathem approached it, his noise wrinkled in distaste. He looked in. There was nothing to indicate any survival. The car was simply a black ash, a skid mark on the floor. In some of that ash were the cremated remains of Officer Roger Reynolds. Though he felt dizzy, 133

Darwen Amos General Stathem felt that he had finally avenged McDaniel’s death. Pleased, he began to consider making his trek back to his Hummer. A few minutes before, Reynolds had seen the rocket approaching his patrol car in his rear-view mirror. Thinking fast, he had opened the door and rolled out. When the rocket consumed the patrol car in flames, Reynolds had been just out of reach. Because General Stathem at the time had been spinning, he hadn’t seen it. Now, as General Stathem looked into the wreckage, Reynolds sneaked up behind him. Then, grabbing General Stathem’s neck with his arms, he quickly snapped the neck bone. Crack! A snapping sound, like the sound of a small firecracker exploding, popped through the air. General Stathem did not even notice he was dead. He dropped to the floor face-first into the burning ashes of Reynolds’s patrol car. Stathem had left his keys in the Hummer’s ignition. The car was ready to drive. Reynolds walked to the Hummer, entered it, and began driving to Los Angeles once more…

134

Chapter Ten Phase Omega

P

hase Omega of Project Insignia was quite going into effect. Unlike the proposed bills of the past, which had to make their way through the bureaucratic rigmarole of the United States legal system, the FBI, which now controlled the legal system, was easily able to bypass those regulations which makes it that nothing ever gets done in the United States. The conditions of the phase was simple. Or perhaps it would be more accurate to say that through complex machinations the effect of the bill was simple. This effect was pure misery and the destruction of free speech and democracy. The Hawaiian islands had, as a matter of course, been confiscated from the public. All the people on there were told to leave, and if they did not not cooperate, they were 135

Darwen Amos kicked off and exiled. But Mr. James brought many of his workers to the place. In a few minutes, construction of his ultimate base became started and, for Mr. James, not a minute too soon. Wearing a hard hat, Mr. James watched the workers building the base, arms akimbo on his waist. The hat he was wearing was a yellow, metal cap which looked like an inverted bowl. However, there was also attached to the sides of the inverted bowl pieces of black rubber which connected to make a chin strap. And you know how inverted bowls cause pollution to become trapped in the smog-infested city. Of such a nature was the evil trapped in Mr. James’s brain, protected by not only his hat, but also his skull. Mr. James looked like a cliché evil construction worker - the foreman of foremen. The chin strap was strapped under one of Mr. James’s many chins. The Hawaiian islands are certainly beautiful. A mountainous volcano stood next to Mr. James, frowning at the workers, encouraging them to labor harder. A large waterfall flowed down the volcano like evil wine. The sky was blue as a waterous ocean. And strange-looking flowers, some looking like ordinary flowers, other exotic, and still others which resembled breathing human flesh, adorned the island. Fantastic creatures - like Tributin patas monkeys, deadly cobra snakes, and venomous toucans wandered to and fro about the confines of the island. And pineapples and shard-fruits grew everywhere in abundance, as well as coconut trees. Some of the construction workers were picking Macadamia nuts from trees, removing the shell, and spitting out the nut into a sand dune. Large piles of bat guano, pinkened by the bats’ carnivorous diet of blood, lay about here and there on the mountainous island. 136

An Unlikely Death The materials for construction had been gathered here far in advance, even before Mr. James’s diabolic proposition had been voted on. The residents of Hawaii, known for their cordial welcoming attitude, had seen the ships carrying in t-bars, nuts, screws, and wood onto the island. They asked no questions. Living on this isolated island, the Hawaiians thought even fire was a miracle. So why would they are that people were bringing random objects to their abode. It wasn’t as if they had been wounded before. They were simply amazed at the new technology which had arrived by ship to their land. And arrived they did. Helicopters landed on the island, carrying additional supplies, as well as food and water for the workers. All the metal, gray equipment came in boxes, were unpacked, and set up for the ready. Construction would begin… Paradise is lost… such a thought was apt. In disbelief the Hawaiians had watched as the newcomers removed all culture from their island, replacing it with the faceless, impersonal culture of crass commercialism. People saw people with various symbols of paradise on their shoulders, such a leis and flower fruit, carrying out the precious objects to a makeshift junkyard. A toucan flew by. It seemed to bemoan the fact that consumerism was destroying life as we know it. In fact the birds of paradise which usually lived there moved to different islands, looking for a better soil in which to plant their roots and grow. Unfortunately, with commercialism what it is today, it is unlikely that these birds will find a safer haven… Mr. James’s castle, when completed, would soar into the sky like a cathedral built in respect of modern technology. And no wonder. No amount of technology had been spared in the building of the building. Already the metal skeleton of the skyscraper seemed to give promise of a 137

Darwen Amos darker day. Each construction worker who had been indebted with the blueprints for this structure looked up at the rough sketch of the completed building with prescient eyes. And what these eyes of the future saw… no one could say they liked. They imaged the steel skeleton finally clad in metal armor, unbreakable glass and, at the very top, like a Christmas ornament, a helicopter beacon shining its red light, rotating in the sky like a sinister lighthouse beacon. This red beacon symbolized the red evil of Mr. James’s heart - and the red evil of his sinister plans… In any case, let us return to the situation at hand. In two days, the building was almost done. One of the construction workers came to Mr. James’s side and asked him: “What do you think of this construction job?” “Well,” said Mr. James. “It looks good to me, but I’m no construction worker. I’ll trust you.” “Will you trust me enough to let me leave this island?” the constructor foreman said. He had been forced to work on this infernal project against his will. “Well,” said Mr. James. “It seems I have no more use for you. He pulled out his gun, cocked it, and pointed it at the construction foreman. With it, he ushered the foreman and the other construction workers onto a ship. “The captain will take you home,” Mr. James told them. “You will receive your payment in the mail… $50,000.” The construction workers, who had thought they would be killed, breathed a collective sigh of relief and started on the journey home… While Reynolds had been driving to Los Angeles, it occurred to him to check General Stathem’s pockets. He drove back to the scene of the explosion, got out, and 138

An Unlikely Death walked over to the general’s corpse. Reynolds looked at the body of his superior, General Stathem, lying on the floor face-down. He reached into the general’s front pocket where, folded into quarters, was a detailed plan of the location and date of completion of Mr. James’s new project. Carefully unfolding and skimming the document, Reynolds tried to imagine the evil that would blossom out of the Hawaiian tribal soil. Reynolds’s imagination was hardwired to see only good in people… and in buildings. So, no matter how he tried, his pure imagination could not call up the ineffable evil that was now in construction. In any case, he could understand what he was able to read. Literacy has no moral values; as a result, words can be used in the service of either side of the moral spectrum, good or evil. Unfortunately, it is too often used for evil. What he read was: “Date of Completion: Two days from now…” He knew he had to get to Mr. James’s base as quickly as possible… He altered his direction, heading towards Hawaii… The rest of the construction work could not be entrusted to the lowly foreman and his workers. In Mr. James’s opinion, they were not evil enough. A special touch was needed to take the good idea and transform it into beauty. He stood on the island, looking at his steel skeletal structure. The sight did not displease him. But it needed something a little extra. He waited, looking out at the night sea. The seaweed waved under the surface of the water in a slow underwater ballet, unseen to all except the fish, who had no use for such theatrics. Soon enough, in a few minutes, Mr. James could see 139

Darwen Amos the approaching steel battleship. A steam whistle blew as a cloud of smoke blew into the black sky. He knew that this ship was filled with specially trained workers… not human in the common sense of the term. For Mr. James had taken the precaution, a few months previous, to kidnap a crew of sailors. With the hypnotic poison patented by his young secretary, he was easily able to sedate them… even the uncooperative ones. He had had his team of FBI doctors operate on the captured workers and, when it was done, he had a loyal group of cybernetically enhanced journeymen. Not robots in the strictest sense, but androids. The problem with robots was that they had no human creativity. But by turning people into androids, you could excise all the undesirable human elements out of the person, but keep the element of creativity. In a sense, androids were the perfect combination of human and machine. The large barge approached closer, then set anchor on the shore. Mr. James strode up to the ship to welcome it. A fully human captain stepped from the ship, dressed in full military gear. In another life he had been a lieutenant. Now he was simply a slave of the FBI. Mr. James returned the captain’s sharp salute in a simple, economical movement. “Howdy,” said Mr. James. “Sir, I have brought the ‘men’ as ordered,” claimed the lieutenant. “Very well,” said Mr. James. “Then it seems I have no more use for you…” Removing this pistol from its holster, Mr. James shot the lieutenant in the head. This was also a simple, economical movement. Without another word, the lieutenant fell to the ground, dead. A door opened in the ship with the sound of steam. Steam escaped from the ship, obscuring Mr. James’s 140

An Unlikely Death sightline into the area. Then, a black form stepped out in relief to the moving steam. It stepped onto the island, moving toward Mr. James. This was followed by many other black forms, vaguely human, moving in a single file like automations. In a row, a hundred robotic workers filed out, then assembled in formation before Mr. James. The sight filled Mr. James’s breast with a pride like no other. As if sensing Mr. James’s militant desires, the androids simultaneously saluted in the night… A great bout of laughter escaped Mr. James’s hefty stomach. The hearty sound, with nowhere to echo, rang out sharply in the night, with the clarity of church bells ringing in distilled water. It seemed that Mr. James would never stop laughing… The freeways were blocked. This was the first thing that went through Reynolds’s head when, in the general’s Hummer, he attempted to drive to the dock where he would find a boat, hijack it, and take it to Hawaii. It was nighttime. A row of soldiers in orange uniforms blocked the way to the dock. The orange uniforms were shiny, and gleamed in the night like coral knives. The guards were armed with new, metallic shotguns with green blinking LED lights; it was an impressive sight indeed. Reynolds swallowed, and pulled up to the blockade, where one of the soldiers broke the formation to approach Reynolds at the vehicle’s window. The soldier motioned with his hands for Reynolds to put his driver’s side window down. Reynolds obliged. “Identification please,” intoned the soldier, in a bored tone. Reynolds began to reach for his wallet. He had to pre141

Darwen Amos pare for a possible confrontation. However, just as he was about to pull it out, another soldier ran up and tapped the first soldier on the back. “Hey! What’s the big idea?” asked the first soldier, turning around. “Don’t you know who that is?” said the second soldier. “That’s General Stathem! I’d recognize his Hummer anywhere!” The first soldier opened his eyes in wide-eyed surprise, then turned back to the driver of the Hummer. “Sorry, General Stathem,” he said to Reynolds. “I didn’t recognize you without your mustache. It seems you’ve lost a lot of weight!” “Yes,” said Reynolds. “I’ve been on a diet and shaved my mustache. By the way, can you tell me where the shipyard is?” “Of course sir,” nodded the soldier. “You are headed in the right direction.” Saying this, he pointed past the blockade. Noticing the row of soldiers blocking the way, he barked out an order: “Hey! Move out of the way! General Stathem needs to get through.” The soldiers, grumbling, moved out of the way, and begrudgingly saluted Reynolds. Reynolds gave a sardonic salute back. The two soldiers who had spoken to Reynolds briskly moved to the side of the freeway. The path was now cleared. Reynolds drove in the direction of the shipyard… The astronauts filed into the warehouse, ready for their mission. Their mission, to fly to the Magnetron satellite and reoutfit it with new magnet technology could not have come at a worse time. The atmospheric conditions 142

An Unlikely Death were at their all time worst, due to the smoky pollution emitted by the many new factories Mr. James had commissioned. In addition, the NASA budget had been cut sharply by half, though NASA was perhaps more important to Mr. James's plans than ever before. The empty warehouse where the astronauts had gathered was empty no more. A large spacecraft loomed in the warehouse. A desk, filled with various objects, stood next to the space shuttle. It would be a dangerous mission. The astronauts, grumbling, waited for hours until their instructor, a general specially appointed by Mr. James himself, finally entered and clapped his hands. “Ready to go?” he said enthusiastically. “Just one question,” grumbled one of the astronauts. “What is the purpose of this mission?” The general smiled. “Why… transport of course.” “Transport?” “Yes. The new equipment you will install on the satellite Magnetron is state-of-the-art technology, which took years and years to develop. It will allow human beings to be transported from place to place with the greatest of ease. Let me show you.” With this, the general removed a small magnet from his pocket. “Now,” he said. “Watch this.” He walked over to the table, where many items were placed. He picked up a paper clip. “See this?” he said. The astronauts nodded. “Well… watch.” The general placed the magnet close to the paper clip. The paper clip stuck to the magnet. “What’s so special about that?” asked an astronaut, nonplussed. “Exactly nothing,” said the general. “Nothing at all. This is simply an ordinary magnet, of small power. The 143

Darwen Amos Magnetron, as you know, is a large magnet, which can pick up most metallic objects of any size. In fact, it is the most powerful magnet in the universe.” “Then why do we need to upgrade it?” asked one of the astronauts. “Simple, my man,” said the general. He picked up a mouse from the table. “Observe,” he said. He placed the magnet close to the mouse. Nothing happened. The astronauts, unimpressed, stayed silent. “Just as you’d expect,” said the general. “No magnetizing. There is no polar quality to mice. Flesh and emotion are not susceptible to magnetic fields. Though human beings are attracted to one another through the faculty of love, there is no adhesive property that necessarily brings human beings together. This is because human beings do not possess polar opposites. Instead, human beings are contradictions in themselves. You can say that they are self-sufficient, fulfilled in themselves. They hate, and they love. They are evil, and they are good. Sometimes they can be extremely intelligent, and invent new inventions. But other times, human beings do incredibly stupid things, such as start wars.” With these words the general now had the full combined interest of his audience. “Okay,” he continued. “So human beings are living contradictions. We can live with that. We have, after all, for millions of years. It’s a surprise, considering what contradictory, cataclysmic qualities exist side by side in human beings, that we do not spontaneously combust due to the catalyzing reaction of contradictory elements. This is the study of chemistry. But chemistry has never been able to explain how, for example, a father can sacrifice his life for his son, or a lover 144

An Unlikely Death will give up days of food simply to catch a glimpse of his beloved. For that has always been in the field of the supernatural. The emotions of human beings, which we cannot explain without resorting to supernatural concepts such as ghosts and UFOs, were hitherto immune to the studying eye of science.” The general paused, hands on hips, observing his audience’s reaction. He was pleased. He had their full attention. “Now,” he said. “Let us return to the subject at hand. Magnets. It is only reasonable that the various contradictory elements in human beings have something preventing them from being contaminated with each other. Otherwise human beings would not be able to exist. This, I term ‘adhesive.’ Adhesive is what keeps contradictory elements from attacking each other, by bounding them so tight with each other they ‘think’ they are the same element. In this way, they have no one to attack.” “So,” said one of the astronauts. “Emotions are like coins, in that each emotion has its opposite tightly bound to the opposite side?” “Exactly,” nodded the general, pleased. “Now all that remains is to find the property of that ‘adhesive.’ It must be a pretty powerful element, this adhesive, if it prevents the raging power of love from coming into contact with the relentless attack of hate, right?” “But that something must be more powerful than steel!” gasped one of the astronauts, in disbelief. “That’s correct,” said the general. “Very good. And the scientists came to the same conclusion. While knowing that an ‘adhesive’ must exist in the human body, they did not yet know its exact element! Then… one of the scientists said the same thing as this bright young man here!” 145

Darwen Amos “And what’s that?” asked an astronaut. “He said ‘This adhesive must be more powerful than steel!’ And that got them thinking… hmm… more powerful than steel? Why, that must be one extremely powerful metal!” Some of the astronauts seemed to get it. They nodded knowingly, saying “I see!” The general smiled, pleased at his studious students. “That’s right!” he said, “an extremely powerful metal! That’s when we knew… knew that there was in the human body a metal ‘adhesive’ which kept them from combusting on themselves!” “Oooh!” said an astronaut. “Exactly!” said the general, pointing happily at the astronaut who had just understood. “Now that they knew that the ineffable element in human beings was not supernatural at all, but simply a metal, it was easy to design a new magnet! A magnet that could attract the polar qualities in human beings! A magnet that could target that metal called ‘human nature!’” With this, the general removed another magnet from his pocket. “This magnet,” he said proudly, “has been equipped with a smaller version of the capacitors you good fellows will be equipping on the Magnetron!” With a flourish the general moved the new magnet closer to the mouse. All eyes were on him as the magnet approached the timid mouse. Then, the surprised mouse, like a metal filing, flew into the air and stuck fast to the magnet, flailing its small legs wildly in the air. The astronauts in the warehouse burst into wild applause. The general nodded, pleased. He knew that they now understood the import of their mission. “Okay!” he clapped his hands. “You guys ready to go?” A roar of enthusiastic agreement echoed in the ware146

An Unlikely Death house… They were ready all right. Ready to rock.

147

Chapter Eleven The Wharf

T

he San Francisco wharf was ominous in the night. Out of the sea the rising waves headed shoreward, cutting through the mercury blue of the languid water with the speed and ferocity of shark’s teeth. The lunar moon, like a white stone radiating in the sky, pulled the tides toward its cold embrace, creating disturbances in the calm ocean water. The water seemed to be reaching its pleading arms toward its brood-mother, crying out for nourishment. But the only nourishment Mother Moon would provide was the feeble sustenance of cold, white light. The waters shivered in the ‘warmth’ of the feminine embrace, the essence of the “Eternal-Feminine.” For it was not forgiveness that was in the sphere of women, but cold indifference… the perfection of a woman finds its expression most clearly in an immaculately bored hatred a hatred for all men. The waves, the disinherited sons of the moon, died and renewed themselves with easy speed, 148

An Unlikely Death like quickly fading vices. Each time a wave broke upon a shore, another rushed up quickly and came to replace it, like an appointee upon a chieftain’s death. The quay was actually a symbiotic combine of structures: a dock, a cluster of warehouses, and a single lighthouse. The dock consisted of a wood patio-like outcropping which hung over the sea like a hand of judgment. There were no ships in tonight. All the ships had been commissioned by the FBI, sent out to one tropical island or other, carrying evil tidings for the native islanders therein. Tonight a single ship would be returning… it was a ship coming from the island of Hawaii, a ship filled with construction workers, a captain, and a chef… It was the U.S.S. Federali… Warehouses surrounded the dock, filled with frozen sharks and crabs. Fishermen walked in and out of these desolate, cold outhouses, carrying over their shoulders rope-nets filled with the catches-of-the-day. From time to time a fish in one of the nets screamed into the night, a wailing, almost human sound of despair, in the agony of displacement from its aquatic home. Whenever this happened, the burly fisherman carrying the net slammed the net into the ground, over and over, with brute strength, until the shrieking stopped. The fish would scream no more… Off to one side of the dock was a lighthouse. The sky was dark and silent, except for a single moon lighting up one corner. In contrast, the sea was in agonized turmoil. The waves were frenzied… what ship could come in tonight? Yet the lighthouse was operational. Its very top was lit up. This beacon sent a triangular beam of white light in a wide arc, easily recognizable by any incoming ship. The beacon had the ability to pierce through any fog 149

Darwen Amos or storm. The single window at the top of the soaring structure was lit in a comforting shade of yellow, like a warm fire on a chilly Christmas day. It was the only reassuring thing in the whole place. The ship had not yet come in. But from the other direction, landward, a black Hummer approached the wharf, then parked in the lot. This was Reynolds, who was now going to wait for a ship so he could hijack it… Standing at the helm of the ship, Captain Heinrich von Panzer, the leader of the US Navy, looked out to sea. He could almost see the shore now… the salt air was clearing up. He raised his binoculars to his eyes, and saw the approaching shore. The sight depressed him. Captain Heinrich was married to the sea. Whenever he stepped on land he always missed the slow sway of the beautiful mistress he called his wife, the sea, the comforting sway which even now held him in a slow ballet, reminding him subconsciously of his nine months in his mother’s stomach, gestating with a bright future… In those days, the days of National Socialism, every future had seemed bright… He was dressed for the occasion, in full military gear. Many decorations adorned his uniform, multicolored like the phosphorescent minions of the deep-sea, and a white sailor’s cap rested jauntily on his head, a few strands of blonde hair sticking out from under it. His handsome, Aryan face poked out under the cap, his sharp nose cutting the salt air like a knife. Everything, including his eyes, was as sharp as the smell of danger. Even his cologne, imported from Germany, had a sharp acidity which could knock women unconscious. Captain Heinrich inhaled deeply of the sea. The sea air 150

An Unlikely Death filled his muscular body and entered each tendon of his powerful ligaments. Though he was forty years old, no one would have suspected he was a day over twenty-five. His daily exercise regimen made sure of that. He felt relaxed. He stretched. The movement reminded one of a panther just escaped from the cage. This was his easiest assignment yet. It was, however, an important one. He was entrusted with the task of bringing the construction workers back home from Hawaii, and also to pick up a powerful explosive device, which was housed in the dock warehouse, and deliver it to Mr. James’s island base. But he wasn’t worried. He frequently made trips to enemy waters and was forced to fight in many naval battles. Or perhaps it would be better not to say forced… he won them all… His naval strategy was so powerful that even pirates trembled at the mere mention of his name… his proud name… the Panzer legacy would live on… His father had been a technician under Hitler’s regime. Bruno von Panzer, Captain Heinrich’s father, had, of course, invented the powerful Panzer tanks which had almost won Germany the Second World War. He remembered fondly the father-and-son rides on his dad’s battleship, The Final Solution… But that was the past. Though Captain Heinrich still cherished some of the pure ideals his father had held. For example he only employed Aryan workers on his ship. And a hatred of Jews burned in his heart. It was his prerogative… and in his opinion, his Aryan Army was perhaps the main reason that he had won every naval battle he had fought. With his comrades at his side (his comrades with skin as white as their loyalties), he had been able to take any battleship in battle. While he might have been able to win the battles without his comrades, he certainly would not have been able to be 151

Darwen Amos so confident… so unafraid… Captain Heinrich was invincible on the sea… Not that he wasn’t dangerous on land. It would be a mistake to underestimate Captain Heinrich’s fighting abilities. He was an expert boxer, fencer, and judo fighter. Woe be the man who faces Captain Heinrich in hand-tohand combat. He had killed hundreds with his bare hands… The warehouse, unusually for this time of night, was filled with frantic activity. Various frozen fish hung from chains attached to the ceilings of the icy warehouse, and all types of fish were stored in the many wooden crates littered about the wide area. Tonight, however, the warehouse carried a cargo more dangerous than a hundred fish… Fishermen and dock workers moved back and forth in the warehouse, putting the final finishing touches on an immense metal structure which took up almost half the area of the place. It was a rocket-shaped structure of cast iron, free-standing in the middle of the room, at a height of thirty or so feet, and a width almost as long. It was the elephant in the room. Ladders led to various levels of the rocket, and fishermen climbed up and down these, tinkering with the various controls built into the structure. And though the object was covered with indecipherable numbers and codes, its use was clear to anyone who gave it even a passing glance. It was a bomb… For the last two weeks the fishermen had worked on this large explosive, called a “magnet bomb” on commission from the FBI. It was, in some ways, a more destruc152

An Unlikely Death tive bomb than the atomic bomb. The atomic bomb was able to level entire cities; this bomb, made from magnetic technology, was able to level entire countries. It was an ultimate deterrent. Any country with a “magnet bomb” would never be bothered by any other country. Mr. James had commissioned this project for just this reason. But right now the bomb was still in its prototype stages. It would take a few more years of research before becoming the nightmare weapon Mr. James had dreamed of ever since he had been a child. Right now it could destroy perhaps one-fourth of a city. But even its infantile stages, this was an extremely dangerous weapon. The giant magnet bomb glistened like an ice sculpture in the cold warehouse… Reynolds, in the parked Hummer, heard the boat, approaching the quay from the west, long before he saw it. The sound of steam releasing into the night air was loud and clear. A few moments later, cutting through the black night, the Federali’s navigation lights came into view. The boat, painted in waterproof shades of black and white, looked like a monstrous sea monster scenting its prey. The boat was large all right, large enough for a crew of one or two hundred, in Reynolds’s estimate. Reynolds had some experience in the navy, but that was ten years ago. Modern technology had advanced to the point that he knew nothing of the Federali’s high-tech battle capabilities. Still, he was no land-lubber, and knew enough about sea-traveling to understand that a boat of this size was more properly termed a “ship” than a boat, though either way he was going to hijack it. The large ship began to turn in toward the dock… the 153

Darwen Amos navigation lights flashed on and off, signaling to the fishermen its intention to make port. It moved forward, decreasing its speed at a constant, almost unnoticeable rate, always seeming to maintain an inexorable moment. A minute later, the Federali dropped anchor. The large ship slowed, then stopped its forward movement, a few meters before the dock. The impression of relentlessness fell away from the ship, though it retained its sinister and regal bearing. Then, one by one, its navigation lights blinked off, turning the ship into an ominous black mass adrift in the night sea. The Federali came to a stop. Captain Heinrich turned from his place of watch and began to address his crew, who were all gathered on the steel prow of the ship. Captain Heinrich needed no megaphone to pitch his orders. Rather, the clarity of pitch was present in his masculine voice itself. He took care of his body; having never smoked a cigarette in his life, Captain Heinrich had a voice which carried across any space. Not that this was necessarily, for he spoke so little that when he did, everyone listened. The various members of the crew, the construction team, and the kitchen staff were all gathered there. As Captain Heinrich addressed them his clear voice carried like a continual martial shout. “You all know what to do,” said the captain. “So let’s make this quick and easy. I want Alpha Team One to head into the warehouse and retrieve the bomb. I will accompany you, as the matter is important. You will then carry it and follow me onto th board. Beta Team Two is entrusted with protecting the ship while Alpha Team One carries out the aforementioned order. Cover every door, 154

An Unlikely Death and every possible entrance onto the ship. This is a delicate matter. The kitchen staff, of course, can return to their quarters. That is all.” “Heil!” came the chorus of the Aryan crew. The construction workers were less enthusiastic about the Axis powers, and remained silent. Then, Alpha Team One began to dismount the ship onto the dock, by way of a retractable staircase. Beta Team Two took their positions. And the kitchen staff collectively began to return to their quarters. However, as the head chef, Barrol Staker, was about to reprise his bed, Captain Heinrich stopped him by grasping his shoulder with a vicelike grip. Barrol Staker bared his teeth but did not cry out. He half turned round. “Don’t be in such a hurry to leave, Steak,” sneered Captain Heinrich. “You haven’t kissed me goodnight yet.” “Watch it, kid,” warned Staker, “Next time you touch me like that I’ll serve you for dinner. Captain Heinrich a la gratin.” Captain Heinrich scoffed. “Listen here, chef,” he said. “The sea voyage has made me mighty hungry. Now I’m going to leave this boat soon, to pick up the bomb. But I’ll be back real soon… And when I’m back, I’m going to expect a steak dinner, medium rare. Have it ready, chef, or your family will suffer. Got that?” Staker appeared on the cusp of saying something vindictive. However, after a moment, he simply spat on the ground, and began to walk back to the kitchen, with steps surprising wide-spaced and powerful for a man his age. Captain Heinrich smiled. By pure chance he happened to look at the ground. Staker had not missed his mark. A glob of saliva and mucus was half on the floor, and half 155

Darwen Amos on his new expensive German boots. A sudden spark of righteous anger set his blood on fire. He briefly considered chasing down Staker and putting two bullets into his head, just to make sure. But, after closing his eyes and counting to ten, Captain Heinrich decided there was more pressing business than his personal vendetta. He had to retrieve the bomb. He would have to avenge his honor some other time. In a terrible mood, Captain Heinrich stepped onto the land for the first time in many months. His future seemed to exist behind a transparent, infinitely thin screen of crimson rage. His immaculately white face reddened with blood. He boiled with hate… Officer Reynolds watched as the crew of the Federali dismounted the ship in an orderly, single-file line. He could tell by their muscular arms and hard hats that some of them were construction workers. They seemed to be heading toward the warehouse, and this made Reynolds feel suspicious. What was in there? A few moments later, another man descended the stairs from the ship and stepped onto the wooden dock. By his dress, it was obvious that he was the captain of the ship, and commanded a powerful rank. The captain seemed troubled about something. Though to Reynolds the man was merely a distant shadow, almost a silhouette, there was something in his bearing which contradicted the confidence which would seem to be mandated from such a muscular body structure. The movements of the captain carried a brooding, put-upon look as he began to walk in the direction of the warehouse. It seemed that a black umbra surrounded this man, and smoke upward into the cold 156

An Unlikely Death atmosphere. Almost half the crew was now off the ship. Reynolds could only make out a few men still on the ship, apparently on security detail. If there was any time to commandeer the ship, it was now. Strategy dictated so. Reynolds briefly considered this course of action. But only briefly. For something else had struck his curiosity. Why had the team of people walked in the direction of the warehouse? What was in there? Reynolds decided to find out. Quietly opening the door of the Hummer, Reynolds rolled out into the ground. He saw the captain enter the warehouse. They were all in there. With the stealth of a cat, Reynolds crept toward the warehouse until he was in front of the door. The door was shut, and made of a weaklooking wood. Taking a deep breath, Reynolds braced himself for action. He was going to kick this door in, and confront the situation like a man. Keeping a tight grip on his gun, he lifted his right foot… The warehouse was now filled with people. The construction workers and ship crew looked at the gigantic bomb, scratching their heads in perplexity. How were they supposed to… “How are we supposed to carry that onto the ship?” the construction foreman asked Captain Heinrich, who had just walked in. “It’s not going to fit!” “Hmm…” said Heinrich, perplexed. “I guess we’ll have to dismantle it.” “But that will take forever!” “It won’t take that long,” said Heinrich. “Well, probably it won’t. Although who can say. But this is merely a minor setback. I want everyone to lift and carry one piece 157

Darwen Amos of the device onto the ship. In this way we might not have to make another round trip from the ship and back, depending on the number of pieces.” “Be careful dismantling the bomb,” said one of the fishermen. “The control panel is still exposed. One wrong press of a button and we could all be history.” “That’s enough,” said Captain Heinrich curtly. “Stop dilly-dallying and get to work.” The construction workers grumbled but slowly got to work dismantling the bomb. Captain Heinrich simply watched, arms crossed, not wanting to get his hands dirty. Suddenly, a loud sound smashed into the warehouse. As if on predatory instinct, Heinrich swiveled around to the source of the sound. When he did, he knew what had happened. The door to the warehouse had been kicked in, and lay in splintering fragments across the warehouse floor. When the dust cleared, a cop was standing there, looking ridiculously vulnerable. The cop pointed a gun at Captain Heinrich. “Freeze!” he yelled. “You’re all under arrest!” At this, every construction worker, fisherman, and crew member abruptly stopped in their tracks and turned their attention toward the cop. Those who had guns quickly aimed them at the cop’s head. The fishermen, armed with harpoon launchers, also set their sights. Even the unarmed construction workers, equipped only with their bare hands, cracked their knuckles and necks in preparation for battle. Reynolds was horribly outmatched. Captain Heinrich grinned, then sardonically raised his hands into the air, in a mockery of surrender. “Well, officer,” he said. “I guess you’ll have to take us all in!” A few of the more insolent fishermen and construction workers let out short, guffawing laughs. Reynolds ner158

An Unlikely Death vously looked around at the army facing him. He was perspiring. Then the gunfire started. The entire warehouse fell into chaos due to a single bullet. One of the crewmen, itching to fire, let off a single shot in Reynolds’s general direction. It missed, and shattered a frozen shark hanging from the ceiling by a steel chain. Shards of ice exploded in all directions; one of the shards hit a fisherman in the face. The fisherman crumpled to his knees, covering his right eye with the palm of his hand. Behind the hand, a slow, steady blood flow commenced, dripping a tiny red waterfall. The sight of the blood was like an impetus to the bloodthirsty seamen. In the next few seconds, a volley of bullets hailed toward Officer Reynolds. Diving behind a column of crates, Reynolds cursed under his breath. Once again, he had underestimated his enemy! Damn, didn’t Sun Tzu’s “Art of War” say never to do that? But there was no time to think about his lack of education. Bullets whizzed by, embedding themselves into the wall behind him. He heard, in quick succession, the “thwack, thwack, thwack” of a storm of bullets being fired into the pillar of crates behind which he had taken cover. The bullets could not penetrate the densely packed fish in those crates. Fish juice, like a sticky rain, fell on Reynolds’s head as it escaped from the penetrated crates. That meant the crates wouldn’t hold out much longer. He knew he had to get out from behind his cover, and soon. Suddenly, a fist pummeled into the side of his head, with megaton force. Reynolds was knocked dizzy for a moment, then quickly recovered. He looked in the direc159

Darwen Amos tion from which the fist had come. There he saw his assailant, a construction worker, grinning with undisguised malice. Reynolds threw a left hook at the worker’s nose. It connected with a sickening crunch. The construction worker stumbled back, blood running from his nose in red rivulets. He raised his finger and touched the blood. He looked at his blood-stained finger. A rage seemed to come over him. The construction worker’s face tightened as he bared his teeth. He again raised his fists, this time with more spirit. Reynolds propelled his shoulder into the angry construction worker just before the fish crates protecting him disintegrated in a hail of bullets. This caught the worker by surprise, and he stumbled back. He was immediately caught in a hail of bullets aimed at Reynolds. He dropped to the ground, a bloody corpse. Reynolds raised his rifle and opened fire at a group of fishermen pointing harpoons at him, in the eastern corner of the warehouse. As the bullets hit their targets, the harpoon launchers went flying into the air, dropping back down with a loud, metallic clatter. A crewman, who had climbed to a high vantage point on one of the ladders leaning against the bomb, fired his shotgun at Reynolds. A cluster of shotgun pellets, like a swarm of bees, launched themselves directly at Reynolds. Reynolds, however, had taken the moment to duck behind a steel refrigeration unit. This was much better cover. The shotgun pellets uselessly clanged off the fridge’s durable metal door. As Reynolds ducked down to reload his police rifle, he heard, in quick succession, the sounds of bullets and pellets bouncing off the refrigerator he was hiding behind. 160

An Unlikely Death Reynolds began to reload his weapon, removing a clip from his pocket. Out of the corner of his eye he spied a crewman atop a pillar of crates who had him in the sights of his sniper rifle. Reynolds acted fast, pushed the clip into place with a click, and quickly fired off one clean shot aimed at the crewman’s heart. It hit its mark. A gout of blood splashed out. The crewman screamed and dropped off the crates headfirst into the floor, his weapon slid across the floor as if on ice. A construction worker picked up the rifle and fired it in Reynolds’s direction, using it like a revolver, missing again and again. Reynolds ignored him. There were more pressing things to worry about. An alarming sound of impact rang in the air. Suddenly the refrigerator he was behind caved in. The sharp point of a launched harpoon had traveled through the fridge’s steel exterior, passed the inside, and come out the other side. Only a few inches away from Reynolds’s forehead, the pointed tip of a steel harpoon protruded, gleaming angrily. Reynolds rolled out from behind the fridge, firing haphazardly as he slid across the floor. As he rolled, he saw his bullets hitting construction workers and crewmen in random areas of their bodies. A weapon was knocked from a crewman’s hand; a construction worker, hit in the knees, dropped screaming to the ground; a fisherman, shot through the heart, fell without a single sound. Avoiding the hail of fresh bullets fired at him, Reynolds strafed to the right, firing off shots this way and that. Soldiers fell like leaves in autumn, some injured, most dead. As he strafed, Reynolds slammed into a fisherman, who was propelled backwards into a hook hanging from a chain on the ceiling. The fisherman became im161

Darwen Amos paled, and let out a scream of agony. A construction foreman rushed Reynolds with a right hook. Reynolds dodged left, ducking down, then stood up, slamming the butt of his rifle into the foreman’s right temple. The foreman flew back into the air and dropped with an audible force into the ground on his back. He did not get up. Then, the construction worker with the sniping gun seemed finally to figure out his weapon. With a nod of understanding he raised the scope of the rifle to his eye, and slowly began to aim it at Reynolds. Reynolds fire off his last round directly into the worker’s heart. That dropped him. Reynolds kicked a yellow barrel filled with a green liquid. The barrel went rolling, slamming into a row of soldiers, spilling out its acidic contents on the bodies of fishermen, crewmen, and construction workers alike. Those who weren’t knocked out by the impact began screaming in agony as the acid melted through their flesh. Reynolds did not know how many of them were left. With a quick roll to the right, Reynolds once again took cover behind a pillar of fish crates as he began to reload. He took his last spare clip out from his pocket and slammed it in. He was no longer hearing the sound of bullets whizzing through the air. This was a good sign. All he heard were the pained moans of the many enemies he had injured, and the silence of those he had killed. Had he done it? Had he won the battle? The warehouse was strangely quiet. Reynolds let out a deep sigh. Then, just when he was beginning to relax and lower his guard, he heard a voice which once again perked his ears up and put him in the mindset of battle. “Come out from behind there, copper,” said the sneering voice. “And I promise to make it only very painful. 162

An Unlikely Death Instead of very very painful, that is. Or don’t. Either way, you die in pain.” Reynolds recognized the voice as the captain’s. He poked his head out from behind the crates and peeked a look. The captain, apparently unhurt, his uniform and hat undisturbed and spotless, was approaching his position behind the crates with what looked like an M-16 in his hands. The machine gun was aimed straight forward, and the captain approached him with a slow, measured gait, an evil smile plastered on his face like a death rictus. He began to whistle. Reynolds recognized the tune. It was “Horst-Wessel-Lied,” the anthem of the National Socialist Party of Old Germany. Reynolds sniffed. “For a US naval captain,” he yelled, “you certainly seem to have leftist political ideals.” This was meant to anger the captain. “Come out, now,” replied Captain Heinrich, seemingly unaffected by the taunt. “Come out and take your death like a man.” Reynolds thought fast. “If you really want to fight like a man, lets do it hand to hand. None of this pussy weapon stuff!” “Really?” silked the captain, as if he were slowly tasting an exquisitely rich and delicious, decadent chocolate truffle, “I’ll have you know that I know jujitsu, karate, and Tae-kwon-do. And I’m a level four judo master.” “Oh yeah?” yelled Reynolds from behind the crates, tightly gripping his rifle with both hands. “Well, I’m a level five judo master so there you have it.” “Dumkompf! Liar!” screamed Captain Heinrich furiously, his thick Germanic accent, usually so well hidden, emerging fiercely in his anger. “There is no level five in judo! Get prepared to be taught a tough lesson, cop!” The captain was furious. Reynolds heard the noise he 163

Darwen Amos had most wanted to hear in the world. Heinrich pulled the strap of his M-16 off his shoulder and tossed the gun to the ground, where it fell with an echoing clatter. He had decided to fight this hand-to-hand. Reynolds made his move. With a single, skilled movement, he strafed out into the open, and swiveled to face the captain. The captain was glaring at Reynolds, his sharp teeth gleaming, and his hands balled into tight fists. In a defensive maneuver, Reynolds leapt to the side, still facing the captain, and raised his rifle, aiming. While still in mid air, Reynolds fanned the trigger repeatedly, emptying the entire clip of bullets into the captain’s body… The captain was hit sixteen times: four in the chest, two in his knees, eight in his arms and legs, and two bullets that grazed the left side of his head, knocking his hat to the floor. The combined impact of the bullets sent the captain reeling backwards, as quick spurts of blood gouted from his many new wounds. He dropped to his knees… Reynolds took his chance to dash across the room and pick up the captain’s M-16. Yes! Now this was a gun! He took a moment to admire the fine craftsmanship of the weapon and smiled, before finally turning to where the captain was. His heart skipped the beat. Where the captain used to be was replaced by only a few puddles of blood, and a trail of blood that led, curving and weaving like a drunk snake… To the bomb… Suddenly a hysterical, insane burst of laughter rang out in the warehouse. The laugh then turned into a series of pained, hacking coughs. Reynolds turned to the source of the sound, which had come from above him. Captain Heinrich, who had climbed up halfway one of the ladders 164

An Unlikely Death leaning against the giant rocket-shaped bomb, was hanging perilously onto the control panel with one hand, the other hand reaching with an extended finger towards a bright red button… “Now…” wheezed the dying captain. “Now we die, cop…” Reynolds fired the M-16 at the wounded captain. But it was too late. The finger pressed the button. Even as the storm of bullets entered the captain’s body, making it dance like a marionette, the captain never stopped smiling, never gave up a certain serenity. It was a final insult when, right before he tumbled off the ladder, he turned his agonized, sickened smiling face to Reynolds’s, grinning to the last. The naval captain’s corpse hit the floor with a sickening thud of snapping bone. A female voice sounded out in the warehouse. “Magnet bomb activated. Thirty seconds till countdown…” Reynolds began to run. The exit was all the way across the long warehouse. “29, 28, 27…” Out of breath, Reynolds reached the wooden door he had kicked in. “10, 9, 8…” Reynolds leapt out into the night. The fresh cold air hit him like an elixir. With newfound strength in his legs, he ran like a shot down the sloping hill toward the dock. He was far away from the warehouse when it exploded, sending a hurricane of flaming debris and human limbs flying into the air…

165

Darwen Amos *** Reynolds took a deep breath, and clutched his M-16 tightly. Now it was time to take the ship…

166

Chapter Twelve The Federali

H

ead Chef Barrol Staker angrily existed in the Federali’s kitchen, cursing Captain Heinrich under his breath. He hated that nickname by which he had been addressed only moments before: “Steak.” He was not a piece of meat! Captain Heinrich always called him that. This was because Captain Heinrich knew, or suspected, that long ago, Staker’s fire for confrontation had died, and now were nothing but wet, smoldering ashes… as a result the captain stepped all over him. At fifty-nine years of age, Barrol Staker was still a hale, hearty old gentleman. A chef’s hat covered his head. Under the hat, his angered face looked as if it were carved out of wood, which had long since petrified. And like petrified wood, it seemed that his face was there to stay, a natural monument, able to weather any change in the weather conditions, resistant to all the unmanly erosions of the heart’s toils. A jagged scar, like a carving of a lov167

Darwen Amos er’s initial “I” in the trunk of a tree, ran down the side of his face, from the outmost corner of his right his eye to the bottom of the chin. The scar was partially covered by his heavy white mustache which constantly bristled under his nose. Staker worked his thick, muscular, tree-like arms up and down while he cut steaks from a large slab of meat. He brought down the butcher knife again and again, repeatedly making a soothing chopping sound, with a slight, wet insinuation. Rivers of light, tepid blood, flowed weakly from the meat, pooling into tiny lakes of blood here and there on the cutting board. He sped up his rhythm and brought his arm down on the meat over and over again, quicker and quicker. The pleasant sound and motion, combined with the rhythm defeating of resistance, like bearing down with his tongue on an aching tooth, sent Barrol Staker into a frenzied bloodlust. In the midst of this Dionysian tribal ritual, Barrol Staker, intoxicated, fell into a reverie of memories… Once, a long time ago, Barrol Staker had been an assassin for the FBI, not some lowly chef on a steamboat. That was back in day, when he was in his late twenties, and still had the fire to fight. But even before his twenties he had always evinced a certain morbidity and bloodlust. Ever since he had been a child he had hidden a great love for knives in his heart. Using knives was his specialty. He had a difficult time making friends, as he was somewhat ugly-looking. The loneliness and the knife he so loved merged in his mind into one beautiful object. He imagined the beautiful scene… all his enemies, bullies and schoolteachers alike, impaled on the points of his knives, merging his love and hatred, like two compatible ele168

An Unlikely Death ments. Oxygen and hydrogen. He also had troubles at home. After a brief bout of only eating food, even soup, exclusively with knives as utensils, Staker had been forced, to his great resistance, by his strict mother, an author of etiquette books, to learn how to use a spoon and fork. But it had never been about eating. It had been the principle of the thing. More than anything, though, he had always wanted to use knives to fight. Surprisingly, his masculine, militant father allowed him to take classes in the use of knives as lethal weapons. He graduated at the top of his class at age nine. His photograph found its way into the newspaper and, in a small niche of knife enthusiasts, Barrol Staker’s name was not unknown. Having honed the craft of knife-fighting to its fullest extent, Barrol Staker had become a black-belt at the age of eight. But he had never been a good student, and remembering the faces of his disappointed schoolteachers sent a hot bile of rage up his throat. He wanted to put his specially honed skills to use. But it didn’t seem likely, and the future loomed ominously and threateningly before him. It had always been clear to him that if he was going to survive and make money in this world, it would have to be something to do with knives. He considered becoming a blacksmith, or a magician who threw knives. His bloodlust, however, did not take to these paltry ideas for occupations. As a compromise, he eventually decided to become a chef, and enrolled in culinary lessons at the local college, to his mother’s great pride. One day, as he was walking from class to class, a greasy-haired man dressed in a dark suit and wearing dark sunglasses stopped. The noticed the suitcase of knives Staker was carrying at the time, and his lips spread in a 169

Darwen Amos slow grin. It was the most evil grin the young Staker had seen in his life. “You like knives, do you?” said the man. “Call me. Anytime. Day or night. I think I may have a special job for you.” With that, the man had handed Barrol his business card. It read: Agent Sagittarius Federal Bureau of Investigation Tel: 555-3848 Shoving the thin, white card into his wallet, Barrol had forgotten about the whole incident. He went to his boarding house, threw his wallet on the dresser table, and fell asleep, thinking nothing of it. It wasn’t until the October 9 incident that he reconsidered. On October 9, Barrol Staker had decided to buy a cookbook to read during his off-hours. When he reached into his wallet to remove the money to pay the bookstore cashier, he accidentally removed the business card instead. He gaped at it as if he were seeing it for the first time. It suddenly occurred to him that he was a somewhat mediocre chef. With that, he decided to call the FBI and try to get a job. The man on the other line told Barrol Staker to meet him at the door of the Sears Building, at exactly 5:00 AM the next day. The next morning, promptly on time, the young Staker had walked to the Sears Building. He was met at the door by the same man who had handed him the card, Agent Sagittarius, dressed exactly the same. Agent Sagittarius grinned unpleasantly in greeting. Without another word, 170

An Unlikely Death he ushered Staker into the building, and up the elevator, still a new invention at the time. When they exited the vater on the fifth floor, they had not spoken a single word to each other. Staker was led to a room with a long table. Three important-looking officials of the FBI, two men and a woman, all dressed impeccably in similar-looking black suits and ties, sat rigidly in chairs behind the table, hands crossed on the desk, curiously but coldly examining the new recruit. After a moment, which seemed to stretch for an eternity, accentuated by the ticking of the wall clock, the short-haired woman seated in the middle seat spoke, saying: “Are you sure about this one, Sagittarius? He looks a little green to me.” “Sure as sure can be,” said Sagittarius, with a lecherous smile. “He’ll make a fine assassin.” Staker gasped in his heart. At the sound of the word “assassin,” everything Staker had been hoping for had been fulfilled in that instant. He had purposely delayed wondering what his new job would entail, but to be able to make a living killing people had always been a goal of his. Even when he was young, he had often dreamed of carving up his schoolteachers and parents, though he had never carried out the actual murder, due to his fear of punishment. But if he was hired as an assassin by the US government… what could possibly happen to him? It was a dream come true. His pleasure at hearing those words must have been evident in his young face. The woman who had spoken before seemed to have a change of heart. She adjusted her glasses. Then, her strict, controlled expression softened, and she suddenly looked at Staker with a kind of maternal 171

Darwen Amos consideration. “Now now,” she said, with a very slight smile. “You won’t be an assassin right away. For at least six months, you’ll be a trainee. That is, if you’re accepted.” Staker froze, staring at the wall. All of a sudden, seemingly apropos of nothing, Barrol Staker removed the knife he always carried in his pocket and threw it deftly at the wall. The blade narrowly missed the woman agent, who twitched in surprise, and embedded itself into the white wall behind her, under the wall clock, vibrating slightly like a string of a harp. “W-what?…” said the woman, completely out of her element. The two other agents had begun to reach into their suits for their weapons but, looking at Staker, who was now tame, decided against it, and withdrew their hands. The atmosphere was like a sharp edge of a knife upon which each person in the room was walking with bare feet. “Look,” said Agent Sagittarius suddenly, pointing at the wall. All three seated agents swiveled round in their chairs to take a closer look at the wall where he had pointed. A fly, which had been resting on the wall, was now pinned neatly to the wall, the thrown blade having entered its middle section. Its legs still writhed up and down, and a buzzing sound, like electricity, circulated in the air around it like a satellite of sound. After a moment, amazingly, tiny blue streaks of electricity actually did begin to run over the flies back, and its flailing leg movements became even more frenetic than before. Then, all of sudden, the movement stopped. A second passed. Then the fly suddenly exploded like a firecracker, making a tiny flame appear suspended in the air for a moment. The knife became dislodged, dropped to the floor, and clinked like a 172

An Unlikely Death sleigh bell. There was an amorphous black ash mark on the wall where the fly had exploded. The three seated agents seemed frozen in place. Agent Sagittarius slowly walked behind the table and picked up the remains of the fly from the floor. He held it up between his thumb and forefinger. The object he held up resembled nothing so much as a small black earphone. The three seated agents gasped. Sagittarius frowned, looking at the smoking thing he was holding. “Just as I expected. A bug. A literal bug that is. This ‘fly on the wall’ has been recording our conversations and conveying them to the KGB. Quite obvious really. Undoubtedly a crude contraption, but I suppose it does its job.” With that, Sagittarius dropped the tiny machine to the ground and crushed it with his foot. A small puff of smoke rose up from under his foot, then dispersed into the air. The agent seated on the right shook his head disbelievingly. “Those damn Russians…” he whispered under his breath. “The damage is minimal,” said the other male agent. “This room isn’t used for much nowadays. When we talk in here, it’s never about the important things. It’s always something like this. Some hiring crap. The stolen information can’t help them too much. It’s basically just an interview room.” The woman agent seemed to come to. “Even so,” she said. “check the other rooms. The bugs might be everywhere.” “I’ll take care of that,” said Sagittarius, and walked out of the room, closing the door behind him with a soft click. The woman agent turned once again to Staker with a grave expression. “We owe you our thanks, young man,” 173

Darwen Amos she said. “Not only did you demonstrate your proficiency with knives, in one fell swoop you’ve also alerted us of a potentially dangerous situation. We can safely say, I think, that you are hired. I’m Agent Libra. These are Agents Scorpio and Leo. Your name?” “Barrol Staker.” “Welcome to the club, Staker,” said the woman. Barrol’s heart swelled with pride. Now the steaks were cut. Chef Staker looked at the thin slices of meat he had cut from the rib. How had he come to be stuck in this unenviable position? The chef of a ship? This was certainly not what he had wanted. It was not what he had wanted at all…. The training had gone quickly. At the secret FBI training camp in Alaska, Barrol Staker had trained with the best of the best. He ran obstacle courses like there was no tomorrow, then collapsed into the sand out of exhaustion. He was not good with guns, but after a huge effort learned the rudiments of shooting. He was well behaved, though he was sometimes insolent to his superiors. If the offense was minor, such as when Staker spoke back to his superiors, he got off with potato-peeling duty. Sitting there in that rat-infested potato closet and whittling away at the peels of potatoes was his favorite activity. From time to time a rat would scurry across the closet floor. Staker would throw his peeling knife at it with perfect accuracy, and he always hit his mark. The rat would be impaled to the ground. Then Staker would walk over to the rat, remove his knife, and return to his soothing work of peel174

An Unlikely Death ing. At mess hall, people would sometimes complain about finding rat hairs in his mashed potatoes, but no one suspected a thing. He was careful to wipe his fingerprints neatly off the potatoes before throwing them into the basket. Six months later, Barrol Staker graduated from the training school. The Vietnam war started. The FBI was overloaded with work. Espionage, assassinations, and advance missions took up the busy organizations schedules. During this time, Staker reached the peak of his professional career. With his carefully aimed knife he killed many spies and Vietnamese soldiers. Even though he sometimes killed an occasional innocent, as he sometimes got overexcited, collateral damage was to be expected. And no one, least of all the head of the FBI, raised a single complaint against him. Then the Gulf War began. Enemy agents were sent to infiltrate the FBI base. Agents Libra, Cancer, and Scorpio were killed. When out on a family picnic with his wife and kids, the head of the FBI was shot in the head by a sniper’s bullet. The second-in-command became first-incommand by proxy. This man was Mr. James, who even in his younger days had not been nearly as idealistic as he himself believed. A dearth of assignments followed under the new leadership. For over a year Barrol Staker did not kill a single man. Nor was he sent out to do so. He became restless. Then, one day, after the long dry spell, Mr. James asked to see him in his office. Expecting an assignment, the eager Barrol Staker had walked into the room proudly, with dignity. Mr. James had shot both down with his words. “Now,” Mr. James had said. “We are in great need for money. So I’ve been looking over records, to see who we 175

Darwen Amos might be able to let go… here is your file.” Mr. James picked up a folder from his desk, filled with pages and pages of information about the assignments Staker had done over the last ten years. He dropped it on the desk in front of Staker, as if giving him the file to read. Mr. James leaned back in his seat and watched Staker, who said nothing, who remained silent. “I’ll just give it to you straight,” said Mr. James. “All you’ve done is make mistakes. You’ve killed more innocents than any other assassin in our employ. Furthermore, your adamant refusal to use ranged weapons, such as crossbows and guns, has been… problematic. We don’t need an assassin like you, and I’ll be damned if I understand why we pay you every month to sit on your ass and do nothing! That’s it! You’re fired. You have my consolations.” With that, Mr. James swiveled around in his chair and faced his window, looking out at the blue sky outside. Seething with rage, Staker discreetly reached for his knife. Mr. James perhaps sensed the movement, which was vaguely reflected in the glass of the window he had been looking out of. He quickly turned again in his chair to face Staker once more. His face, to Staker, seemed a little nervous. “Well, uh, tell you what,” he said quickly. “I feel a little sympathy for your plight. I’m idealistic, you see. We need a chef. A chef of the sea. For you see, the Federali, our new ship, needs a cook. If you can cook, even a little, as this files says you can, the job is yours. But no more assassinations. And of course your pay will be considerably less…” Barrol Staker, of course, did not wish to take such a pride-destroying deal. He was, however, a realist and 176

An Unlikely Death knew that he could never continue his way of life without making money. And so, with a heavy heart, he accepted Mr. James’s offer to work on the Federali as its head chef. That had been many years ago. Now he was stuck working the kitchen in a piece-of-junk ship for the FBI. And he was stuck sating his bloodlust by cutting up pieces of meat. How ridiculous! Chef Staker brought out a dish. He plated the steak, medium rare, and placed a baked potato on the side. He was about to carry it out, when he suddenly heard a burst of machine gun fire. Then… screaming. Something was going on outside. Something big… The machine gun fire continued. Chef Staker opened the kitchen door just a bit and peeked outside. Before his unbelieving eyes, a great scene of night and blood and death was taking place, like a pageantry of darkness. A cop had somehow gotten on the ship, with what looked like the captain’s machine gun. With a godlike bearing, the cop gunned down the guards positioned outside on the ship, one by one, two by two. Bullets tore through the crewman guarded the captain’s quarters. Blood arced into the air in a gentle outline of a dome. A construction worker pointed his rifle at the cop. The cop turned sharply, and put a bullet in his head. The worker was thrown back, as if he wanted to look at the sky. More bullets entered the worker’s body. Staker looked around. There were corpses everywhere. This cop had somehow destroyed the entire security detail. For the first time in a 177

Darwen Amos long time, Barrol Staker was impressed favorably by the actions of another person. Not only was it morally good to kill people, but to kill them so that they received less pain was even better. The cop, covered in blood, now stood on the deck like a dark angel of death. The moon shone its rays down, and set half of the cop’s face afire in an angelic white halo. The cop’s slow breathing moved his body up and down. To Staker, the man looked like a pulsating reflection in the moving water, like the reflection of a moon that can never be attained. He realized that in the form of this mysterious cop, he had recognized himself. In other words, he now looked nostalgically at a idealized vision of his youth, a killer that he never was…. The cop suddenly turned. Eyebrows raising in surprise, he pointed his rifle directly at Barrol’s head. “Put the gun down,” Barrol said warningly. The cop blinked in surprise. He put the gun down. “Who are you?” he said. “I’m the chef of this steamboat, Barrol Staker,” said Staker. “Who are you?” “I’m Reynolds,” said the cop. “And I’m commandeering this ship. I’ve already killed the captain. You can stay, or you can leave. Your choice. I suggest you leave. Where I’m going I don’t plan to come back.” “No,” said Staker, “That’s where you’re wrong. Back in my day, if you kill the captain, you are the captain. And from where I’m standing, it looks like I’m your chef. Why not, then, have a dinner to eat before embarking on your long journey?” Reynolds seemed to be considering the offer. After a minute, he said, “Yes. That sounds good. But what should I eat?” 178

An Unlikely Death Reynolds seemed to mull it over for a few minutes. “Steak,” he said at last. “I feel like a nice big steak tonight.” “Very well,” said Staker. “Right this way.” Saying this, Staker ushered Reynolds into the captain’s dining quarters. The captain’s dining quarters was a small, well-decorated room separated from the dining hall for the other crew members. Captain Heinrich had always eaten alone. A pair of swords, crossed into a X, was displayed on the wall. The floor was covered in red carpeting. A small glass chandelier hung from the middle of the ceiling. A small dining table, covered with an unstained tablecloth, occupied the center of the room. Silverware had already been set out, and empty wine glasses littered the table. “Please.” Staker pulled out a chair from behind the table. Reynolds sat. “Now… about that steak,” said Staker. “How would you like it cooked?” “Well done please,” said Reynolds, tying a cloth bib around his neck. “With lots of A-1 sauce!” Follow me, reader, and let us return once again to the past… After the conversation with Mr. James, Staker had been assigned to kitchen duty on the Federali. When Barrol Staker had first walked into the ship’s kitchen, his heart had fallen. After the glory of his assassin days, the kitchen seemed very bad in comparison. 179

Darwen Amos Working on the ship was hell. He did not have the proper tools to cook at his best, and the assortment of knives were dismal. And of course, the diners, who, always thinking thoughts of the sea, did not know good cuisine from bad, were not very appreciative. There was no incentive to put in any effort. His resentment of Mr. James and the FBI grew twofold. In fact, Staker often wondered if he should not have killed Mr. James that day, after all… One day, the Federali had set anchor at a small coastal town. To his surprise, Mr. James was there on the quay to meet him as he got off the ship. Mr. James, usually quite hostile, seemed to be fat and happy today. Staker resented this happiness, and found it objectionable. “Why, Staker!” said Mr. James, taking the chef into a warm embrace. “How’s my favorite chef?” Staker burned with hatred. Mr. James suggested that they share a dinner at the local restaurant. His treat, of course. Out of professional duty, Staker had followed him there. On the way Mr. James excitedly told Staker that the FBI had just received a new shipment of money. As a result they would be able to obtain new helicopters. And hire new assassins. So that’s why he’s so happy, thought Staker angrily. They walked into the expensive restaurant. The waiter seated them. Later, the waiter had asked Mr. James what he wanted to have. And Mr. James had said he wanted a steak well done. Barrol Staker fumed with rage. He suddenly remembered that Mr. James had once ordered the same thing as Reynolds and, connecting the two in his mind, began to 180

An Unlikely Death hate Reynolds almost as much as he hated Mr. James. All the suppressed rage of his life seemed to surge up from his blood and overload his brain with molecules of aggression. He burned with hatred for Reynolds so much that he was quivering. He turned his head towards Reynolds, still seated, sharply. His chef’s hat fell off in the movement, revealing a bald head like a charging bull’s. “Could you repeat that please?” he asked Reynolds through gritted teeth. It was his last effort at civil conversation. “A steak well done please,” repeated Reynolds. “And hurry it up. I’m famished!” Reynolds picked up the empty wine glass and a spoon. He hit the side of the glass with the spoon, making a cute tinkling sound. He repeated this motion again. And again. And again. The sound seemed to reverb and echo in Staker’s pounding head like wind chimes… Enough of this preamble. Staker knew what he had to do, and what he must do, now. With an angry movement of his muscular arm the bald man grabbed the steak knife off the dining table. Reynolds, surprised, leapt off his seat and stared at Staker. “Ordering steak well done, are you?” seethed Staker, a crimson gleam in his eye. “Why, you might as well order a hamburger! And why not douse your well-done steak in lots of A-1 sauce? That way you can’t taste the steak at all! Might as well put ketchup on it! What is this, Crazytown?” Letting out sardonic laughter, Staker swung his right hand with the knife at Reynolds’s jugular. Reynolds jumped backwards just in the nick of time. The knife arced uselessly inches from his bare neck. Staker once 181

Darwen Amos again turned his crazed eyes on Reynolds. “No,” said Reynolds, in a low voice. “This is isn’t Crazytown. You’re the only one from that zip code.” Staker let out a roar of anger and slashed out again, cutting a red line in the arm Reynolds had thrown up to block the attack. “I’m crazy, am I?” he yelled, slicing again. “Who’s the one who orders well-done steak? Who’s the one who wants lots of A-1 sauce?” Reynolds, afraid, fled, running out of the dining room at full speed. Staker gave chase… Reynolds didn’t know which way to do. He paused on the deck, wildly looking around. Should he go that way? Or should he go this way? Or neither? Or both? In the surprise of being attacked by the hitherto friendly chef, Reynolds had lost his cool. He ran in a random direction. Staker ran after Reynolds in the same direction, south. “Going to the kitchen, are you?” he roared. “Going to cook yourself a well-done steak, are you?” “Hey buddy,” yelled Reynolds tauntingly over his shoulder, as he ran for his life. “It’s a free country. Or at least it was before your boss Mr. James took over!” Staker’s rage went up even more levels. As an example, if he was a thermostat, almost the entire thing would be covered in red mercury. “Mr. James is not my boss!” he screamed, running as quickly as his legs would allow. Reynolds ran down the stairs and opened the door into the kitchen area. He slammed the door behind him. He knew it was probably a dead end, but he had to make the effort. He rushed inside the small, white, clean room. Indeed, he was correct. The kitchen was a closed in room, 182

An Unlikely Death with no exit except the one he had just come through. Pots and pans hung in profusion from every ceiling. Cupboards, filled with various spices and foodstuffs, were installed here and there in the room. Gleaming metal tables were in neat rows. Upon one of them was a half-cut roast. Upon another was a fully plated steak, done rare. Damn, thought Reynolds. I should have ordered something the chef is a little less passionate about. But how was I to know? Looking to find a weapon, he picked up a frying pan and held it in front of him like a shield. The sounds of Staker’s running feet approached dangerously close. Reynolds shut his eyes tight in terror. While his world was thus blackened, he heard the sound of the enraged Staker’s foot kicking in the flimsy door which led down in the kitchen. Reynolds opened his eyes. Staker, now sure of his man, walked toward Reynolds with a practiced, deep-breathing gait, every step economical, not befitting the rage which undoubtedly still wailed in his heart. Stalker’s bald head was perspiring, not of exhaustion, but of simple madness. He took deep, powerful breaths as he walked. The steak knife in his right hand gleamed under the ridiculously bright and white kitchen lights. The bald head of its owner gleamed under the painfully bright white lights. Was this heaven or hell? Reynolds couldn’t tell. He knew one thing though. If he acted like he was in limbo, and didn’t do something soon, he would end up in heaven or hell real soon. “Wipe that grin off your face,” sneered Staker. “It’s not a good look for you.” There was something a little weak about this comment, after his previous anger. And if one looked closer, there was also something petulantly resentful about the way Staker said this, and it reminded one of 183

Darwen Amos a dying battery. This was because Staker, being old, was unable to keep his rage up for long periods of time. What had begun as an enraged rage had now deescalated into a slight cantankerousness. Staker took a few steps forward. Reynolds, who had unconsciously been smiling at his own witty internal monologue, now saw his chance. Perhaps he could win this after all. He assumed a grave expression. “That’s better,” said Staker, his lips curling into a triumphant smile. His mustache echoed the upmost motion of the lip with the immaculate fidelity of a mirror. His knife gleamed once again. His madness, which had been replaced by anger, which had been replaced in turn by retirement, was now replaced by triumph. But it was a satisfied, careless triumph, which was so sure of his victory it could afford to smile. Seeing his chance, Reynolds made a quick movement with his arm and flung the frying pan at Staker’s head with all his strength. The frying pan cut through the air like a discus and slammed into Staker’s bald head with a clanking sound, the impact knocking his arms back and sending the knife flying. Staker roared in anger and pain as his hands shot up to his bleeding face. Officer Reynolds rushed his opponent and grabbed him by the neck. He threw Staker to the closest corner, where the old man slammed into a metal table. The various pots and pans hanging over the table shook, teetered perilously, then fell in a group, landing on Staker’s head and shoulders. Staker screamed in pain. Reynolds quickly took a survey of the room. Just behind Staker was a gas grill, which was flat and covered a length of table. He ran at Staker with full speed, and grabbed his face. Then, with his other hand, he quickly 184

An Unlikely Death turned the knob up on the gas grill to its maximum level of heat. The grill came to life. Dead, stale steam from whatever had been cooked there previously rose into the air. Reynolds slammed the side of Staker’s face into the surface of the fiery grill. The sounds of crackling and smell of burning flesh rose into the air. Staker’s screams echoed around the room as if it were the Niagara Falls. Staker’s arms flailed about wildly, but Reynolds held his face against the grill with a steadfast arm. Eventually the fighting slowed, then stopped entirely. Barrol Staker, master of knives, was dead in the kitchen, the place he had despised the most during his life. Reynolds let go his grip of the chef’s face. The chef’s body slid off the grill and onto the floor with a slump. Reynolds turned off the grill. “Looks like I’m getting a well-done steak after all…” said Reynolds to himself. Having finished his steak (it was delicious), Reynolds stepped onto the ship’s deck cut the rope of the anchor with a butcher knife. The large ship drifted out to sea, like a leaf upon a pond. Then he went up to the captain’s control office and pressed the autopilot button for Hawaii. After this, he retired to the captain’s quarters and dropped off into a deep, dead sleep. The Federali, following its robotic orders, diligently made its way towards Mr. James’s island base….

185

Chapter Thirteen Tower of Babel, Part I

R

eynolds awoke in the evening. Rubbing his eyes, he stepped out onto the ship’s deck and looked out at the horizon stretching before him. In front of him stretched endless vistas of blue water… a wide, blue expanse that never seemed to end. The sky had taken on the color of burnished amber and, nearer the line of the sea, seemed to acquire, in a purple-red-green-orange blur of phosphorescence, the myriad colors of its unusual flora and fauna which lurked hidden under the dark blue surface of the sea… From time to time a small island came into Reynolds’s field of sight. Looking like completely irrelevant reminders of past island vacations, they existed, like traffic-cones, only to be ignored. He had only one island in his sight. As the commandeered ship made its way toward Hawaii, Reynolds knew that things were coming to a head… Where he was going, there was Mr. James. When 186

An Unlikely Death Mr. James and he met, there would be a fight to the death… And only one of them would leave the island… Out here nothing of the Mr. James’s “Project Insignia” existed. No matter how many schools were demolished, how many churches were razed, the sea would always continue to exist, like a giant rock which weathered any emotion. In many ways, the sea was much more important than the trivial pursuits of society, such as education and government. For the first time Reynolds sensed this truth. How much beauty there was in the sea! No wonder sailors sailed seas! In front of the tidal waves, who could think of anything else? Too bad Reynolds had learned this important lesson of Nature so late. If he came out of that island alive, he would appreciate the little things in life. And if he didn’t, then at least he had learned an important lesson before his final goodbyes. When Reynolds checked his watch, it was 1900 hours. Military Time. The Federali was 400 miles off the coast of its target island. On the control panel of the ship, far away from Reynolds’s sight, a green line relentlessly coursed around in a circle, making a small beep as it did so. This was the ship’s radar system, state of the art technology. Keeping the ship moving at a steady speed of five knots an hour, each beep and circuit of the green LED light marked off a fixed distance toward Mr. James’s evil island. Even the radar system seemed to know that other islands than Hawaii were unimportant. When it encountered an island, which showed as a green blob on the outer edge of the radar circle, the orbiting line, passing through it, made nothing but its usual, ordinary, beeping noise….

187

Darwen Amos *** Mr. James stood on his island, Hawaii, looking up at his completed building. The robotic workers, who had finished the construction job a few hours ago, had been shut down by a remote sensor, and rolled into a giant, steel garage next to the building. Everything had gone so perfectly to plan that Mr. James felt his long-frustrated destiny was finally being achieved out of a benevolent cosmic justice. The FBI Ultimate Skyscraper, as Mr. James styled it, rose 600 feet into the air, a soaring monument to the excess of technology that has earned human beings the ultimate dominance of nature and her minions hundredfold. The steel skeleton had been fully covered in impenetrable glass, which moreover did not take in the sunlight or moonlight, but reflected it back into the heavens with a disdainful shrug of uncaring boredom. Rather, its lighting was achieved by a pipework of neon tubing attached on the outside of the building, which could flash any color according to Mr. James’s mood and temperament. This, however, was not so much a practical development as it was an aesthetic choice on Mr. James’s part. Mr. James had with him a remote control which controlled all aspects of this technological marvel of the building. In truth, the least important control was the color of the lighting. Right now it was green. For Mr. James was, in a way similar to the emotion suggested by that color, content and unsuspicious. And aesthetically, the building reflected this mood quite well. A radio satellite perched on the roof of the forty floor building, glinting out in the night. Its sole purpose was to contact Magnetron, which had been recently equipped by 188

An Unlikely Death NASA with the capability of transporting human beings from one coordinate to another. Nor was the Magnetron unprotected. Gun turrets had been placed at each corner of the roof, able to aim both at intruders approaching the building and possible spies who desired to destroy the Magnetron contacting satellite. These turrets, controlled by the tower computer, were primed to fire at anyone or anything which got too close to the satellite. The building was equipped with magnet-powered elevators, which could traverse the entire height of the building in less than a minute. So much for the technological capabilities of the FBI Ultimate Skyscraper. In terms of aesthetics, no amount of expense was spared in the indoor decor of the giant building either. There were expensive chairs everywhere, and the floor was done in the best marble. The statue of David by Michelangelo was hewn from such a white, shining marble of the stars. One might have thought such a brand of marble could only be obtained on the isle of Greece, and so it was. Two heavily armed guards stood guard at the entrance of the building. Nevertheless, the door they guarded was activated by motion. As a result, the guards were required to keep extremely still and vigilant, lest they disturb the automatic doors behind them. The lobby of the building was done in green decor. A information desk was worked at the front lobby, which one immediately encountered upon entering the automatically open door which lead inside. The young Oriental lady named Kitana Xhuang, dressed in a Korean kimono, who worked this desk was not really a mere secretary, but was trained in knife-fighting herself. A cash register stood in front of her on the desk. This contained no cash, but when opened, would 189

Darwen Amos produce a shining array of Chinese knives and throwing stones. Next to the information desk was a waiting area, complete with expensive sofas and a table decorated with a series of colorful magazines spread out in a fanlike formation. The sofas were trap sofas and, upon a press of a button on the cash register by the exotic and beautiful Asiatic secretary working the front desk or by an identical button on Mr. James’s remote control, the sofas flipped over, sending its occupant down a trap door, down a series of chutes into the Pacific Ocean. Next to the waiting area was a bank of six elevators. Three of the elevators were operational right now. They could only head to three other floors: the second, the third, and the top floor, the fourth. The other floor buttons, for now, were not operational. The building actually presently consisted of four floors with extremely high ceilings. When further renovation started, more floors would be inserted, like wooden sheets into slats, in the wide vertical spaces separating the floors. Mr. James, however, had grand plans for these other, not-yet-built floors, and once he had gained the other nations’ cooperation in Project Insignia, he would allot the best of them a single floor in his building, which he saw in the future as becoming a kind of headquarters for all of the world leaders, with Mr. James himself sitting in his office at the top floor. It was looking possible. Talks had already begun with India, North Korea, and Iraq. Kim Jong-il had been especially eager to be a part of the plan. But even the other countries had all agreed to cooperate with Project Insignia…. The sky was darkening. Mr. James had stood looking at his building, dreaming of the future, for a full two hours. A ship seemed to be heading this way… Mr. James 190

An Unlikely Death took out his remote control and pressed the button for “yellow.” The building immediately lit up in the colors of the middle traffic light that signaled caution and “slow down.” For Mr. James was suspicious… And, as he saw the ship approach his beloved island, he knew he had to be cautious. He quickly entered the building, without greeting the armed guards, and took the elevator to the top floor, where he kept a luxurious office. Reynolds was now able to see the approaching island. He saw the evil building rise up in front of it. It was more evil than he had possibly imagined. In fact, its size was so much increased by its evil that it seemed far greater in size and height that the island it called its home. He knew that he would not be able to dock and set anchor on the island. For one thing, he had cut the ship’s anchor at the San Francisco bay. For another, even if the island had a dock, would Mr. James really let him stay ashore? In any case, he had a better idea. As the building became bigger and bigger in his eye as the ship approached the island, he began to move the steering wheel of the ship, aiming it at the steel structure which rose in front of him. Mr. James, if he was in the building, would be in for the surprise of his life. The Federali smashed into the island. Still on its forward momentum, it veered off course and missed the main building, careening and screeching like a metal bird as it crashed instead into the steel garage, which had been filled a few minutes ago with the construction worker robots who had built the main tower. Almost immediately upon impact, both the ship and the garage exploded in a huge burst of flame. A fury of smoke and desecrated de191

Darwen Amos bris flew out from the destructed garage. The flames threatened to wrap the entirely of the island afire. At the last second, Reynolds jumped off the ship and, landing catlike on his feet, took off running toward the FBI Building, the fire from the ship chasing him like a robber. A fire alarm, set off by the explosion, suddenly blared out into the night. The FBI Building, showing one of its technological equipment, extended a metal hose from its roof and, aiming it down at the hellish flames covering the garage and ship, sent down a raining storm of fresh water at its target. Soon enough, the fire, coming in contact with its opposite element, was out. The alarm, satisfied, stopped. By that time Reynolds had already reached the front door of the building. The two guards reacted with practiced speed. “Halt!” said the one of the left, swinging his spear to block the door. The second was even more efficient. As Reynolds came running up to the door, he quickly struck out at the approaching policeman with the back of his spear, hitting Reynolds in the side of the head and knocking him senseless for a second. But a second is not enough to kill… Unless you are trained officer. In the second he was given, Reynolds suddenly struck out with an open palm into the heart of the first, slower guard, the one who had told him to “Halt!” The guard stumbled back, holding his heart. Halt, my left foot! thought Reynolds as he kicked the injured guard in the stomach, into the automatic doors, shattering them into a million pieces. The other, faster armed guard then aimed his spear at Reynolds’s head, and thrust. Reynolds caught the shaft of the spear in his hand, and tugged it out of the other’s grasp. Then, bending the wooden spear over his knee, he swiftly broke it in two. The other guard, now unarmed, 192

An Unlikely Death fought an impulse to flee, then struck out his fist. Reynolds ducked under it and tripped the guard to the floor. He fell on the shards of glass, and begin writhing in pain…. The two guards were now not dead. But they were wounded enough to be might as well dead. There was no point in killing when not needed. Officer Reynolds, not a scratch on his sturdy, police-trained body, entered the building…. Kitana Huang, the beautiful Oriental secretary, had just finished her nightly glass of baby rat wine and was looking forward to going home to her temple study in Japan. However, that was when she noticed that the glass doors to the entrance of the FBI building where she now existed had been broken in, with great shattering sounds, by Reynolds, the wayward officer. Although Orientals have traditionally had smaller, more slanted eyes than normal people, Huang’s almond-shaped eyes, like most Asians, were much longer sideways than American eyes. As a result, although her field of vision suffered in comparison on the up-and-down scale of vision to most people, her horizontal range of sight was much more acute than the regular man’s, and she easily saw the officer enter the building, with seldom a problem at all. Reynolds ran toward the bank of elevators, almost skirting against the wall on the other side. He had already come too far without her eyes having sensed the project was beyond rescue. Or was it beyond rescue? Could she redeem her honor? She silently cursed her lack of vigilance. Her ancestors would burn in hell for this mistake, and it was all her 193

Darwen Amos fault… She had no time, however, to further contemplate these mysteries of Nirvana. Rather, she quickly depressed the output button on the cash register, a clever trap, still registering faithfully on her desk. Mr. James had certainly seen to it that this building, his ultimate home, was filled with the very kinds of traps and missions which would make the easy infiltration of the officers to the base nearly impossible… To her, Reynolds might well have been a fly in the ointment. Threatening the corporation, she seethed. I’ll show him what’s the issue. The cash register’s money drawer popped out in front of her. What emerged with such speed, however, was not tissues or money, but a candy-colored assortment of Japanese throwing knives and fortune-telling stones. Both were useful, in their own special ways, but for Kitana Huang at this moment, one was more useful than the others - the knives…. Knives. Bladed weapons. Cooking implements. In the right situation, harbingers of death. In the right hands, an expert way to cut green onions. In the wrong hands, a weapon to be feared. In Kitana Huang’s small, jar-restricted kimonoed hands, the knives had the heft and feel of a small, good omen, like a paper pendant hung from a dry, sugar-covered pine tree, emblazoned with the circling wishes of the wild elk. Reynolds didn’t noticed the first knife Huang threw at him; for all the silent trajectory it traced, one’s nose might as well have been the worthier indicator of spatial approach. Time tested ears and eyes did not sense the sharp bullet-like sharps which pinned his shirt to the wall behind him. It was only when Reynolds tried to make a dash to the elevator bank he realized his impediment: he was stuck to the wall, like a fly to rice paper. 194

An Unlikely Death With three more quick flourishes the dragon-lady attached Reynolds even more securely to his walled plight with efficient knives pinning his jean material twice, his shirt once more, to the wall behind. Reynolds was nothing more than a spider caught in a web of its own making… Reynolds struggled to free himself. But it was no use. He was stuck fast, in the crucifix position. Was he to die in such an embarrassing, humiliating fashion, fit for only the weakest and least powerful of men? And he was going to die, if he didn’t figure out an escape. Looking at the information desk, he thought that the lady behind was certainly not willing to have him remain a prisoner indefinitely. It was clear in her bearing and manner she meant to kill him. For she had lost all art and seduction in her movements. No longer trying to seduce men, and having no need for coquetry, the woman behind the desk had became the embodiment of the monster she really was. Women... thought Reynolds. But he couldn’t finish the thought. Another knife, thrown by quick, successful fingers, sliced through the air toward him like a blade guided by the hand of a master. It was aimed at his left eye. With much effort, Reynolds was able to lurch his head sharply to the right. The knife missed, and stuck into the wall behind him, barely missing the side of his head. Reynolds was safe, for now, but his head was bent in an unnatural, uncomfortable, and painful position. He closed his eyes in desperation… Silence… then more silence. Risking a peek, Reynolds squinted open his eyes. The Oriental woman, still standing behind the information desk, was apparently consulting a pile of colored stones in front of her. Deep in concentration, she waved her hands in mystical gestures airily over the runes. Her 195

Darwen Amos eyes closed, she seemed to breathe deeply of the air. Then, her movements stopped. For a moment, the exotic woman remained in that position, her hands raised over the colored stones, arranged mysteriously on the desk, suspended like a Ferris wheel in extremis. Perhaps because of her motionlessness, Reynolds imagined he saw a clear, jeweled tear course down her right cheek. She remained in her severed position for a second, then opened her eyes. Already the tear was gone. “You are lucky, Reynolds,” she said, with a heavy Chinese accent, making her l’s into r’s. “My ancestors have not forgiven me for my mistake in allowing you to enter the building. I must join them… and apologize in person…” With that, Kitana Huang came out from behind the desk and moved toward Reynolds in a floating, ghostlike spiritual manner. Her feet, which had been tied and bound by her father in tape due to the male’s desires of the land, moved swiftly for their small size, appropriate for following her husband master to the worship room. She now stood close to Reynolds. She reached out her hands and freed Reynolds, removing the knives from the wall. “Go,” she said. “Do what you must do, samurai.” Reynolds looked at his savior with a grim, grateful look. He had to fight an urge to kiss her out of gratitude. She might take that the wrong way. “Thank you,” he said, finally. “No,” said his rescuing woman, turning her tearful eyes away. “Go. You must leave my sight before I change my mind. Now!” Reynolds ran to the bank of elevators and pressed the up button. Ding. It arrived. He turned a final time to look at the source of his gratefulness, but she had already faced 196

An Unlikely Death away from him, knelt, and had silently removed her kimono. Her rich pale skin shone under the luminous lights, and seemed to be a source of light itself. From the back, it was like watching a faceless spirit of light. Then, with quick, stabbing motions, as if cooking, she inserted the knives she had removed from the wall one by one into her body, without even a sound of pain or laughter. The first directly penetrated into her navel, which had connected her by spiritual umbilici to her nearest, most despised ancestor, her unloving mother. A vein-work of blood emerged outward from the point of entry. It was not an impalement, but the closing off of a door, like closing a door before prayer. As it appeared, so much like a spreading crack in glass, it seemed that the pattern had always been there, but had simply not been traced over. With quick, flitting motions she inserted the second and third into either side of her neck. And the final knife she plunged deep into the white, infinitely rich skin of her neck. The throat. Then, she waited… The blood seemed reluctant to emerge into their new world, like nestling hummingbirds afraid of first flight. A static electricity in the air, like a radio signal, prevented them from riding the frequency of their doubt like a conviction made true by acknowledging its futility. Soon enough, however, it was overcome by a small, pinlike prick of physical break. What had once been confined strictly to the spirit world inside the human body rejoiced to be allowed its full and joyous expression, by necessity a final one. A crystalline chorus of blood spilled out in rejoicing lines from the three new points of entry. The body had become a fountain, continually replenishing itself from an unseen source, an invisible hand guiding the lost blood from the basin to the peak, to flow down once more 197

Darwen Amos in slow, tensionless harmony. The blood that had once connected her to this world, now exposed to the air, cavorted happily, making small arcs in the airs like playing dolphins, and in Reynolds’s mind he saw the spiritual gates of the heavens open gloriously before his eyes. Had such a woman been denied entrance into heaven, one long night ago? If not, how was she still alive? He shook his head in amazed gratitude for the sight he was being shown. For a moment, a divine curtain into the hidden pageantry of the gods had opened in front of him to apprehend… and in purely human terms! The Oriental woman leaned backwards now from her kneeling position, probably already dead. Her upsidedown face now looked accusingly into Reynolds’s with dead eyes. Her tongue lolled. Her white face, once beautiful, slowly became, due to the influence of gravity affecting her new contortionist bodily position, a grotesque baroque face quickly becoming a drooping parody of itself. Her bare breasts, heaving backwards like heavy bags of white sand, perilously threatened to drop into his view. This prospect struck him as indescribably unpleasant, as well as ludicrously comic. His mouth suddenly filled with the bitter taste of ashes mixed with rainwater. No… he realized, this woman’s body wasn’t a fountain. It would never replenish itself, no matter what. A human being was not a fountain, but a wine flute. Once all the blood flowed out of her body, she would, like everything, fall to the ground, painfully, inflammably dry, like a pine cone in wildfire season. He believed this, but did not want to believe it, nor see it. If he knew, once and for all, that her body, bloodless, would fall, and the fountain would stop, he could not release his final refuge of piety: repetition. Without believing in the essential truth of a circular mo198

An Unlikely Death tion, in a pendulum, there was no hope. If there existed no fountain of the body in this world, and only a metaphysical, abstract fountain of spirit, he would not be able to go on. That final, irrevocable break - that was the very core of impossibility. The elevator doors began to close. He quickly slipped into it, without a second glance backward. He pressed the button for the next floor….

199

Chapter Fourteen Tower of Babel, Part II

T

he top floor of the skyscraper consisted entirely of Mr. James’s executive office. This large office, the size of a hotel suite, was walled on three sides by plate glass windows. The only wall which did not consist of a single transparent sheet of thick glass was the one upon which the elevator opened. Presently, these well-maintained, immaculately clean windows reflected the black, starless night. A person stepping out of the elevator into this office would get the sense that he was balanced on a floor suspended high in outer space, closed in at the top by the ceiling, with a steep drop of every visible side of him. The floor was of expensive, imported marble. The room was punctuated with a stainless-steel desk, directly facing the elevator, and a set of couches and a fully stocked minibar to its left. A Tread Climber, seldom used by Mr. James, stood off to the right side, facing a giant television attached to the corner-wall intersection closest 200

An Unlikely Death to the exercise machine. Mr. James sat behind his desk on the top floor, eyes rapt - focused not on the starry sky around him, but on something immediately before him. To be more specific, he was planted in his leather swivel-chair and looking at the color monitor he had had installed a few days ago in the surface of his stainless-steel desk. There were networks of cameras all over this building, hidden in the walls and ceilings, transmitting wirelessly to this screen this very moment. From his vantage point he could keep track of all the goings-on in the main building. Right now the monitor was carefully tracking the movements of Officer Reynolds, who was beginning to impress him very much indeed. Yes, this Reynolds was a very clever fellow. How easily he had tricked that Oriental woman to off herself! What charisma! What improvisation! His gut swelled with healthy good humor. And to think that he had always gotten a cold look and silent treatment from that glorified doormat, Miss Huang! That’s why he preferred male secretaries to females. They were far more reliable, somewhat more willing to travel, and - most importantly - less likely to fall in love with the enemy. That reminded him... Mr. James depressed a button on his speaker phone with a fat pointer finger. Static. “Secretary,” he said. “I want to speak to you.” “Yes sir,” came the youthful-sounding response, efficient as always. Mr. James removed his finger from the button. He waited, half-watching the monitor. It didn’t bother him, the long waiting. He was in high spirits. The thought of death was far away. Indeed, he wanted Reynolds to find him. Not to kill him, but to find him. Nothing would 201

Darwen Amos please him more than to finally meet the man he had been watching from afar - and to brusquely shake his hand. There was an invigoration, a stimulating pleasure in forging new friendships, in “making connections.” At the same time, he mused unpleasantly, familiarity certainly bred contempt…. The elevator dinged open. His young secretary walked in, carrying a suitcase. The secretary approached the desk. Behind it, Mr. James’s face, in anticipation of the unpleasant news he was about to deliver, was curdled and compressed into a semblance of disgust. “What is it sir?” asked the young secretary tentatively, with a slight anxiety showing in his voice. “Well my boy,” said Mr. James. “You’re not gonna like it. I’ve got some bad news.” He sighed, and shook his head tragically. “Is it Reynolds, sir?” said the secretary. He seemed to perk up. “If so, don’t worry, sir. He’ll never get past the third floor. I’m sure of it.” Mr. James waved this all away with a hand, as if Reynolds was of only passing interest to him. “It’s not that, my boy,” he said. “But I’m afraid I have some bad news. For you, that is. But maybe now’s not a good-” “I can take it sir,” interrupted the secretary, standing up straight. “Give it to me straight sir.” Mr. James nodded. “It’s not that you’re a bad secretary,” he continued kindly. “You were very loyal, very efficient, no question… but I need a change of pace. As you know, you’ve been working for me some years now, and you’ve done a good job, no doubt about that, but sometimes it’s good for the heart to see fresh new faces. Do you under202

An Unlikely Death stand? You’re fired, son. I’m getting a new secretary.” The young secretary stood stock still for a few moments. The atmosphere in the room was tense. Then, in a trembling voice, he spoke. “If there’s anything I’ve been doing wrong, I-I…” Mr. James had had enough of this molly-coddling. “Nope,” he said tersely. “My mind is set. You’re to be out of my building by tonight.” “Any problem at all sir…” He was crying freely now. “I can-” “Pack your things!” Mr. James roared. “I tell you my mind is made up!” The sudden shouting seemed to stop the secretary’s trembling. He wiped away his tears, and put on a brave front. “And my project?” he said, in controlled, measured tones. “I don’t give a rat’s ass what you do with your blasted ‘project,’” said Mr. James. “It’s none of my business or concern. I release you from your contract. Now… if you’re done crying about nothing at all, kindly step out of my office please.” With that, Mr. James swiveled away from the secretary in his chair, put his arms behind his head, and glared out the glass window at the night sky. “That project, sir,” said the secretary through clenched teeth, “was for you. But I know now you wouldn’t have appreciated it. You’ve never appreciated anything I’ve done for you, have you? I can see that now.” Mr. James did not respond. “Very well sir. I take my leave.” The secretary turned around, and picked up his suitcase, which he had earlier placed on the marble floor. He walked into the elevator and pressed a button. The 203

Darwen Amos elevator door closed, and it began to descend to the third floor… Officer Reynolds waited in the elevator as it moved to the next highest floor, looking up at the electronic wallmounted floor display. I don’t want to go on, he thought. But I must… Ding. The elevator door opened. Reynolds stepped out onto the second floor. Now Reynolds stood on the second floor of the FBI Ultimate Skyscraper. What greeted his eyes was a sparse, warehouse-like room. Its most striking feature was its very featurelessness. The walls were covered in sleek, stainless steel, innocent of ornaments, and one of the only objects in the room was an advanced, insectoid-looking gun corner-mounted at the intersection of one of the walls and one of the ceilings. This powerful, alien-looking gun was aiming directly at Reynolds. He moved to one side. With the labored noise of grinding machinery, the metal gun torturously followed the movement, slowing tracing an arc until it once again was pointing at the officer. The other object in the room was a giant, wall-mounted computer screen, making up almost the entire steel wall across from the elevator. The monitor was currently turned on, greenly displaying in a humongous font the following blinking, threatening words: PASSWORD REQUIRED ENTER PASSWORD HERE: The colon at the end of the message blinked on and off intermittently. Reynolds stared… 204

An Unlikely Death Suddenly, as if a mechanical train door had opened, a hissing sound of escaping steam assaulted his ears. He looked down. On the floor below him, a futuristic trapdoor had just opened up, and an advanced typing console, complete with a keyboard attached to small makeshift desk, rose up slowly in front of him. It reached waistheight, then stopped rising, clicking into place. A moment passed, then the open trap door closed around the base of the console, reprising the hissing noise. Password? thought Reynolds wonderingly. Nobody told me about any password! He scratched his head in confusion. Knowing that he needed to input a password to progress, he was at a loss of what to do. Thinking fast, he inputted the first password that came to mind. “Roger Reynolds,” he typed. He pressed the Enter key. Beep! The monitor on the wall flashed angrily. In front of Reynolds’s nervous eyes, the monitor changed, expressing a different message, this time in red: PASSWORD INCORRECT. LASER LOWERING… What laser?! Reynolds looked up at the high ceiling. In front of his despairing eyes, a horizontal line of red laser light, which he had not seen upon entering the room, lowered ten meters from the high ceilings, then stopped. He breathed a sigh of relief, and looked once more at the monitor, which again read: PASSWORD REQUIRED ENTER PASSWORD HERE:

205

Darwen Amos Ah, I see, thought Reynolds. Each time I get the wrong password, that laser in the ceiling will drop another ten meters. And when the laser detects my body, that gun (he pointed to the alien-looking gun mounted on the ceiling) will fire, rendering my body into skin and bones! Yikes! He did some quick calculations in his head. Lucky the ceiling was so high. At this rate, he could get the password wrong nine or ten more times before the laser lowered enough to detect him. Just to be safe, though, let’s say eight times. In any case, the situation was bad, but not so bad as to lose hope. Thinking hard, Reynolds inputted another guess into the keyboard… The young secretary stepped out of the elevator onto the third floor. The third floor of the tower was the least luxurious of the four, except perhaps the second floor. Missing were fur-lined leather sofas and chairs which decorated the other floors; missing, too, were those various modern contrivances Americans have gotten used to and come to depend on, to the point that without them they would be helpless: there were no soda machines, coffee makers, or iPods on this whole floor. On the contrary, this floor was the young secretary’s private surgery room. It was lit by rash fluorescent white lighting so blinding that the room was bathed in a heaven’s luminescence. Such clear illumination should have caused it to be easy to see particles of dust fluctuating through the air, but the room was so sterile that even dust seemed hesitant to intrude on its pure quarantine. Operating tables in neat rows were arranged across the floor. 206

An Unlikely Death Some were empty, and others were occupied by cruel human and inhuman shapes covered by white, immaculately-laundered sheets of linen. Medical implements and tools lay on rotating metal tables. Power tools hung on the walls by small magnets. On the far side of the room was a special table reserved for the secretary’s current “project.” A human’s characteristic form lay upon the table, also covered by a white sheet. The young secretary walked over to this table and removed the sheet. This discovered the form of Officer Saffron, lying on the table like a bed, arms crossed in the “casket position” over the top half of her body, which still wore its policewoman’s outfit. Though it did not appear she was breathing, it nevertheless appeared to resemble a sleeping form. Even under the brightness of the lighting there was no flaws or shortcomings in her skin. Her skin had the mechanical perfection of a computer screen. Her blonde hair under the white light did not give her the impression of having deficient ability and wisdom, but instead implied that even her filaments were now made of a white, indestructible metal filing. Instead of a human being, she was now a perfectly operational machine. Not that any of this affected the young secretary’s bad mood. He wheeled the closest table of tools next to the operating table. It didn’t matter. Even if Mr. James would never see its completion, he would finish the project for himself. No longer was the project for Mr. James. Angrily picking up a scalpel, he began to work…. Reynolds had tried many other passwords, none of them valid. 207

Darwen Amos His train of thought had been that Mr. James would choose a password which reflected his personality. In this process the password could be arrived at by a method of induction. “What does Mr. James love more than anything?” he asked himself. “Victory,” he had tried. Incorrect. The laser moved down. “Destruction,” he tried again. Also wrong. The laser moved down again. He stared at the insectoid gun in fear. Various other passwords had been equally wrong. The laser now hung dangerously low, only eleven meters above ground level. If it lowered one more time, the laser would intersect with his body and send the mortal message to the gun. What was the password?! “Domination,” he typed, in desperation. The monitor turned red, and said: PASSWORD INCORRECT. LASER LOWERING… Reynolds watched the lowering laser in abject terror…. With a scalpel between his teeth, the young secretary carefully cut a green wire in his project’s arm, which he had opened up to expose the machinery and mass of colored wires inside. As he had begun to work on his project again, his anger and outrage at the atrocity of being fired by Mr. James had gradually abated through the comforting, monotonous work. He no longer felt like throwing himself off a cliff. Now he felt only a dull, languid emotional void. 208

An Unlikely Death With a small welding torch he welded two red wires in Officer Saffron’s arm. A small puff of smoke emerged. He closed the panel which had revealed the wires and gears. When he did, Saffron’s arm once again looked human, with no visible apertures. He then replaced the scalpel and welding torch on the tool table. Then he stepped back from the operating table and looked at his project. The woman’s porcelain face interested him in an intellectual sense. What was the secret of a woman’s beauty? he wondered. It was invisible to this young scientist. Reduced to lines and curves, perhaps, and he could grasp the mechanical machinery or medical principle of the thing, but in any case he was missing the masculine soul’s key element which gave one permission to give his heart to a woman…. In any case, he thought, maybe his situation wasn’t so bad. Maybe his being fired was in actuality a blessing in disguise. He could go back to medical school. Perhaps, after he obtained his degree Mr. James would be moved enough to rehire him as his secretary. At the very least, he was not as dead as the woman who lay before him, and still had the choice to hope. The thought encouraged him. In a better mood, he returned to the work…. Reynolds had not been killed by the descending laser with his last incorrect answer but, thinking fast, had bent his body backwards at the waist, as if he were playing “limbo,” so that the laser, which should have hit him, instead hovered in a line one inch above his bent-back body, contorted in an unnatural position. Now it was real209

Darwen Amos ly down to the wire. Reynolds would be able, with some physical effort, to make one last try at the password. He had to make this one count. What else did Mr. James love? wondered Reynolds, racking his brain. Yet he could not think of anything he had not already tried. And he was running out of time… Suddenly he knew. He had been on the wrong track the whole time. He had been thinking of what Mr. James loved, but he realized now that such a man would not select an object of love as his password. Instead, he should have asked himself, What did Mr. James hate more than anything? The answer came quickly to him. In his bent-back position, he reached his arm over to the keyboard and typed in: “Democracy.” He pressed the enter key. Crossing his fingers and holding his breath, he turned his attention to the wall monitor. PASSWORD CORRECT! LASER RISING… Reynold breathed a sigh of relief as the laser once again raised up to its original position, not having sent the fatal message to the gun…. He returned to the elevator and pressed the button for the third floor…. The young secretary replaced the tool on the table. He had mostly completed the project. Suddenly he heard the elevator door open. He had forgotten all about Reynolds. He turned toward the source of the sound… 210

An Unlikely Death *** The elevator door opened out onto the third floor. Reynolds stepped out into the surgery room. On the far side of the room he saw a slender human figure standing over an operating table. The figure turned toward him. Reacting quickly, Reynolds removed his rifle, aimed it, and fired. The bullet hit the figure in the forehead. A splatter of blood splashed out from the back of its head. The figure was flung backward by the impact of the bullet, and hit the table behind it, knocking various metal tools to the floor with a series of clattering sounds. The figure seemed to stagger for a moment, but then it dropped sidelong to the floor, behind a table and out of sight. It did not get up. Reynolds quickly scanned the room. It seemed to be some sort of medical bay. A dead or unconscious woman lay on the operating table over which the figure had been standing. Other than her and the person he had just killed, who was probably a doctor, there did not seem to be any person stationed here. This awoke a suspicion in him. After the ordeals he had faced on the first and second floors, he did not feel easy that the third floor did not offer any new challenges. Shrugging his shoulders in resignation, he began to walk back into the elevator… On the operating table, binary code, rendered digitally in green zeroes and ones, filtered rapidly and stealthily behind Officer Saffron’s tightly shut eyelids. The impact of the young secretary’s corpse hitting the table as it fell jolted her inner circuits slightly. She had not yet been equipped with shock absorbers, so that small impact was 211

Darwen Amos enough to tilt her from her light sleep. Opening her eyes, Officer Saffron awoke from her electrical dreams… A sound like an uncoiling spring startled Roger Reynolds into turning around just before walking back into the elevator. What he saw surprised him greatly. The woman who had been lying on the operating table had, like an unreclining seat in an airplane, sprung up into a sitting position, and was now pointing an extended finger at him, staring straight at him - or through him… Reynolds suddenly recognized the woman. “Officer Saffron!” he gasped, surprised. “Are you hurt? Do you need any help? You look a little out of it!” It never occurred to Reynolds that the woman sitting up before him was anything other than Officer Saffron, his comrade-in-arms, which whom he had spent many hours out on patrol, drinking coffee and eating donuts together when the times were bad, and sharing a few beers in the locker room on the weekends, rooting for the Dodgers. It did not cross his mind that this woman was no longer herself and was in fact a robot, programmed to be his enemy… Suddenly, a bolt of electricity burst out like lightning from the woman’s pointed finger, directly in Reynolds’s direction. Reynolds, who had not really been expecting this answer, was unable to dodge, and felt 400 watts of electricity course through his body like a lightning bolt through a copper-wired superconductor. “Aaaaaggh!” cried Reynolds, as he writhed in pain. It was as if all the static electricity in the world had been compressed into the single bolt of energy that now forced his body to dance like an epileptic having a seizure. And 212

An Unlikely Death in the midst of his pain, he realized that something was wrong… no, make that very wrong, with Officer Saffron. By that time Saffron had dismounted from the operating table and, eyes fixed on Reynolds’s position, was purposefully marching toward him, finger still extended. Mid-march, she fired another bolt from her finger, juicing Reynolds once again with 400 megawatts of pure electricity. “Stop it!!!” yelled Reynolds in pain, as his body was wracked once more. “It’s me, Officer Saffron - Roger Reynolds!” This urgent plea, however, did naught to slow Saffron’s inexorable approach. She did not stop, but kept moving closer. Reynolds knew that soon he would be forced to hurt his old friend. He didn’t want to do it, but in times of danger, one had to protect himself over all others…. Still shaking from the electricity, he unsteadily raised his rifle at the approaching figure. His hands quivering from shock, he could not get a good aim on his target. He fired off a few haphazard, twitchingly shot shots in her general direction, hoping but not hoping to kill her. He had fired off three shots. The first two missed their targets, clanging uselessly off the steel walls and tables. The third, however, struck Saffron in the forehead, with a similar clanging sound. The bullet ricocheted off and clattered loudly to the floor, compressed horizontally like a soda can crushed under a powerful boot. A small dimple now punctuated the middle of Saffron’s forehead, like a dent in a new car. This was enough to awaken Reynolds to a new truth. What he was looking at was no ordinary police officer, like all human beings, but a bona-fide cyborg. And it 213

Darwen Amos would be foolish to try to use a rifle on a cyborg, since bullets and robots were made of the same, puncture-resistant steel. He flung his rifle away and staggered to his feet, looking desperately around for something - anything - in the room he could use to defend himself. Then he saw it. Off to the left, a little off from where he was, a large blacksmith’s sledgehammer rested on an anvil. He knew that such a hammer was only used in manipulating metal. Thinking fast, he made a beeline for the hammer, come hell or high water. Officer Saffron’s newly appointed target system tracked his movements perfectly with radar. Homing in which degreed lines of longitude and latitude, her arm, like a pinion to a rack, followed the movement with ease, the homing missile launcher implanted therein primed to fire at the slightest offset. “Firing homing missile!” warned her robotic voice. Reynolds had finally reached the sledge. Picking it up with a groan of exertion, he spun round and round with it in his hands, like a shot-putter, gaining momentum. When he had enough momentum, he finally released his payload, sending it careening across the room with deadly force toward the hapless Officer Saffron. Her dodging algorithm was not yet optimal. Thinking he had more time, the young secretary had not programmed in a good defensive maneuver, only focusing on weapons algorithms. Therefore, it should be no surprise to the reader that the thrown anvil struck Officer Saffron point blank… the anvil slammed into Saffron’s exposed head full force, which the speed of a rushing eighteenwheeler semi-truck. The robot was propelled backwards through the air at sonic speeds into the far metal wall, where it crashed with a giant, sparking explosion. Sparks, 214

An Unlikely Death flames, and smoke emitted out from the wall where the impact happened. It seemed the output would never stopped. But it did. Then, when the smoke cleared, Officer Saffron was no longer in sight, but a giant crater had been blown into the wall, as if by dynamite. Reynolds panted in exhaustion… it was all over. In his opinion the explosion had incinerated Saffron’s entire body in the explosion, explaining her invisibility… He began to head back into the elevator when he heard a pained, weeping noise… The noise came from the area of explosion. It was, without the doubt, the sound of a human being in pain, more specifically, a normal woman in pain. The voice was recognized by him was belonging to one Rebecca Saffron. Was it possible that Officer Saffron still retained an iota of human self? Although she was a robot, wasn’t it possible that she still hurt, still felt human passions? If so, it was the least he could do to make alms with her dying form and wish her godspeed into the next world… He walked over to the site of the explosion, and looked down. Yes, Officer Saffron was indeed wailing in pain, and did not look to be in good condition. The explosion had seared off half her face, the half revealed to his eyes, revealing a combination of human bone and metal inside. Her lipless teeth were revealed in a metal rictus. Her eye, eyelids seared off, stared blankly into space. In short, the half of this face was more like a skull than a human face. The explosion had done more than merely strip the skin from the bone. The head of the woman hung half off the neck with sinews and wiring. Small rivers of blood, or copper insulation, dripped out from the exposed apertures. Her right arm, the homing missile-launcher arm, had been blown clean off. The fire had eaten through her uniform 215

Darwen Amos and skin, revealing the metal exoskeleton inside. The cries of pain seemed to be coming from a speaker source hidden deep behind the exposed, bared teeth. The face turned toward Reynolds. The unrevealed half of her face, now revealed, was still mostly intact. The pretty face of Officer Saffron, if it could be replicated and flipped horizontally, then pasted on the other half, would have made a truly handsome face indicative of her lifely beauty. However, the strange contrast between the two halves of her face, one human, one robot, put Reynolds in a confused state, and he did not know whether to like or dislike the sight that was before his eyes… “Roger… come closer…” said Officer Saffron, in a withering, dying voice. “I have to tell you a secret…” Reynolds put his head closer to Officer Saffron’s mouth, his ear inclined to receive the incoming whisper. Just when he was expecting the secret, Officer Saffron’s left arm launched out from below, gripped tightly around his throat, and began to close, throttling him. He began to make labored, choking sounds, reaching with his hands up to his throat to try to pry the vicelike grip from cutting off the breath of his windpipe. However, the grip was too strong, He continued to fight, however, choking and strangulated. Officer Saffron now stood up, still gripping Reynolds by the throat. Once she was completely upright, she raised her arm, lifting him into the air. Reynolds began to kick; his choking and attempts to breathe became weaker and weaker… “Objective about to be achieved…” declared Saffron. Not if I can help it, thought Reynolds. Amid his choking thoughts his eyes were clear-sighted. His training had made sure of that. He silently thanked this training which 216

An Unlikely Death had got him this far. But it was all useless if he didn’t get any further. Mr. James would win, and the world would fall into a tyranny it had never known. His eyes went down to Saffron’s midsection. There, past the burnt uniform, a square of her flesh had been burned off by the explosion, exposing a grid of wires. In the middle of this grid was a small module with a blinking inset light. Somehow, Reynolds knew that this was an important part of her programming, and instinctively felt that it was her weak spot… He was running out of breath… with a final expenditure of stored energy Reynolds struck out with his foot in a sharp kick at the blinking light. It connected, shattering the module. Saffron’s grip slackened, and Reynolds slid onto the floor on his bottom. Looking up at Saffron from this vantage point, he realized he had done her irreparable harm. A blue electricity coursed out from the broken module and appeared to course all over her body in a thin, fuzzy electroluminescence. Her head twitched back and forth. Looking down at her midsection, Saffron’s good eye closed in pain. “I don’t want to hurt you, robot,” said Reynolds. “But if you don’t back off, I will have to destroy you.” “Roger!” shouted Saffron. “Don’t you understand? It’s my programming! I can’t help it! We are in the same situation!” With that, Saffron raised her left arm once again. With a series of complicated movements, that arm transformed into a small rocket launcher like a transformer, pointed directly at Reynolds. Reynolds got to his feet, and began to seek cover. Whoosh! A rocket sailed past Reynolds and hit the wall, exploding upon contact. Reynolds looked over his 217

Darwen Amos shoulder. Saffron seemed to have trouble aiming. Then, suddenly, as if against her will, she began walking toward Reynolds, although her eyes filled with tears and she seemed to be resist the inexorable mission. “Saffron!” appealed Reynolds. “You’re just a robot! Whatever you once were, is no more! So abort your mission right now!” Saffron still approached in drunken, labored steps, the blue electricity encircling her. She was weeping, shaking her head in despair. “Don’t you understand, Roger?” she yelled. “It’s still me! I’m still me, despite everything! And even though I’m a robot, I love you! And you’ll love me too. When you’re a robot!” Clink, clink! Her heavy feet hit the metal floor as she walked toward Reynolds, who was running away. Another rocket fired, missed. A group of tables, far off from Reynolds’s position, exploded into flames. The entire room began to catch fire, spreading, becoming a conflagration. The heat oppressed Reynolds’s skin. He picked up a random object from a table. It was a power screwdriver. He looked at it, felt its heft, and threw it with all his might at Saffron. The airborne screwdriver, traveling with tremendous speeds through screens of fire, hit its mark, clanking with a loud noise on Saffron’s face. Her head displaced further to the left, and downwards, until it was now hanging off her neck by only a new wires and a single tendon of muscle. Blood welled over, pouring out from the partially severed neck. The flames rose still further. Now the flames made a crackling, fiery noise. The various tables in the surgery room, seen through the fire screens, pulsated like hellish shadows. Out of the fire stumbled Officer Saffron, who 218

An Unlikely Death no longer resembled a woman in any sense. Reynolds picked up a wrench and threw it at the robot. It hit her arm, and bounced off. It didn’t look like a direct hit at all, but it seemed to do the trick. Saffron suddenly stopped in her track, twitching. The blue electricity orbited faster on the outside of her body, running on invisible train tracks. “Beep, beep!” yelled Officer Saffron. “System error! System error! Self-destruct sequence activated!” Officer Reynolds breathed a sigh of relief. He had done it. He watched, waiting for Saffron to explode. She didn’t. With a quick movement like throwing back hair she replaced her own displaced head until it more or less was back in its proper position. She stopped twitching, and pointed her left arm once again at Reynolds. “Just kidding Roger!” she said. “Don’t you know my heart is true? Even though my heart is a computer, it remains fully operational! I have emotions Roger! Even robots have emotions! Only they feel cold… like metal! Why won’t you believe me Roger? Why won’t you believe my love is real?” Another wayward rocket flew through the room, hitting a welding station. That was the most flammable area in the entire surgery room. With a burst of flame, the welding station exploded - the largest, hottest explosion yet. A draft of heat assaulted Reynolds’s skin, burning it by mere insinuation. A ring of fire encircled the room from the welding station outward. The fires raised. Metal tools erupted and popped all around him with the sound of noisy firecrackers. It was over… Reynolds fell to his knees. Saffron approached him, shiveringly, slowly. She was out of rockets. When she was close enough, she also fell to his 219

Darwen Amos knees, close to where Reynolds was. She was so close that even through the fire Reynolds could feel a suggestion of her feminine body warmth. He was going to die… he turned his gaze to Saffron, who was looking at him with loving eyes. The fires burned louder, stronger… Saffron leaned in toward Reynolds’s cheek, small lips primed for a kiss. It was, for Saffron, a scene from her deepest dream. For this perpetual hopeless romantic, even in robot form, there was nothing better than to die with a beloved surrounded by a physical fire that replaced your own, stolen, symbolic passions of love. That love had been taken away by her reprogramming, but the fires which burned around them both with such relentless temperature seemed to provide a more than adequate replacement. The flames burned so high, in fact, that the fire could not reasonably be concluded as emerging entirely from her own insufficient heart, and she could even believe that Reynolds loved her…In that moment she found a paradise… Just before Saffron was able to complete her kiss, the smoke alarm went off. The ceiling in the room was so high that it had taken this long for the smoke to reach the alarm. But reach it did. A blaring sound rotated in the room. The sprinkler system was activated. The water poured like rain from the various spigots interspliced across the high, Catholic ceiling, and fell on the burning fires, fell on the two lovers kneeling in the middle. A beautiful, cleansing rain… The water hit the blue electricity surrounding Saffron’s leaning body. The fires reduced, and went out. Saffron, electrons friend by the contact of water and the electricity, crackled, then simply went dark, freezing in her kissing position. In other words, the water interacted chemically 220

An Unlikely Death with the blue electricity coursing around her and shortcircuited her fuses. With a dying sound of computer shutdown, Saffron’s eyes locked into its last position, directed at Reynolds’s face and dimmed, and her body turned to stone, a dynamic statue in a position of penitence, and moved no more… Reynolds squinted open his eyes. The robot was no longer moving, instead prostrating itself in a position of worship toward Reynolds. Her long blonde hair fell over the desecrated, robotic half of her face. She had reclaimed her human form, and was a figurine representative of that returning form… The rain cleansed the dirt and ashes from her bodily form, laundered her uniform, washed her hair… This was now a cast-iron rendering of Officer Saffron as she had been in life, in the kneeling posture of eternal devotion. Phew! thought Reynolds, getting up. The world was no longer aflame. A light, pleasant drizzle fell. He lifted his face to the ceiling, drinking the cool, refreshing water that fell. He looked at the kneeling figure who had caused him so much trouble. He considered kicking the statue down, but decided against it. No, he had to honor his fallen officer. With a short prayer of memorial, Reynolds retrieved his rifle and went back into the elevator and pressed the button for the final, fourth floor. Mr. James had watched all this with interest on his monitor. He waited expectantly…

221

Chapter Fifteen James v. Reynolds

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he elevator door opened onto the final floor. Reynolds walked out into the luxurious office, facing Mr. James seated at his swivel-chair behind the desk. “Well well well,” said Mr. James, with a smile. “What do we have here?” “It’s over James,” said Reynolds. “Your plan has come to its last step.” “Is that so?” said Mr. James, raising an eyebrow in mock surprise. “And here I was, thinking that everything has been going perfectly. How wrong I was!” Reynolds raised his rifle. “Say goodbye James. I’m going to put you out of America’s misery.” His finger began to squeeze the trigger. “Not so fast,” said Mr. James. Reynolds’s finger stopped midway between fully pressing the trigger and letting go a bullet. “You see,” said Mr. James. “I have a story to tell you. A story about your friend Stevens….” 222

An Unlikely Death “What?” said Reynolds. “Stevens…?” He had forgotten all about his best friend. Now he remembered that he had promised to return with help to Stevens when he had abandoned him at the marsh. He felt bad and repentant. What was the difference between him and Mr. James? “Yes. Stevens.” With that, Mr. James pressed a button on his remote. A closet door opened, and Officer Stevens fell out into the room, tied and bleeding. “Reynolds…” said Stevens. “I’m - I’m sorry…” Reynolds’s hold on the rifle slackened. “Stevens!” he shouted, flinging his rifle to the ground. He started to run toward his dying friend, but Mr. James halted him by pointed his remote at him. “Yes,” he said. “Your friend Stevens.” “What have you done to him?!” yelled Reynolds. Mr. James ignored the impassioned plea, and continued his previous train of thought. “Yes… Stevens. Or as he was known to me, Mr. Assassin. To the public, he was, perhaps, better known as the AMC killer, an assassin so meticulous and careful, perhaps a little bit yellow, who made sure to kill every witness of his crimes.” “Roger,” said Stevens weakly. “Don’t believe him!” Reynolds looked suspiciously, confusedly, at Stevens, then at Mr. James. His gaze wandered back and forth between the two like a swinging pendulum on a cuckoo clock. “Every word of it is true,” continued Mr. James. “You see, your friend Stevens was actually Mr. Assassin. I hired him a while back to get rid of one of my agents, Taurus, who had been sneaking around the files a little too much for his own good. You see, Agent Taurus discovered some papers which pointed to my… involvement in the Gulf War assassinations of several agents of the 223

Darwen Amos FBI, Libra, Cancer, and Scorpio. And also my involvement in the killing of the FBI’s Director.” “Is that true?” said Reynolds to Stevens. Stevens did not answer, hanging his head in shame. “Well,” continued Mr. James. “As it turned out he was a problematic assassin. Oh, he killed Taurus, all right. I had offered him full immunity from his previous crimes, and well as money, for his services, but Stevens, or Mr. Assassin, wouldn’t have it. He arrived at my office one day with a strange request. He asked me to find a way to get rid of you. I said I would, but didn’t really make any inquiries in that direction. I knew that if Stevens wanted you killed, he would come up with his own plan, without needing me to do so. And he did, asking for my help.” Mr. James paused, then sighed sadly. “I’m sorry about what I’m about to tell you, Reynolds, but your friend is no good. In fact, he led you to the strip club, The Golden Bunny, on a wild goose chase, where you were supposed to die in a fiery explosion, compliments of my young secretary. I had my secretary place a bomb in the club, but was unsuccessful in killing you. Stevens was watching for the explosion the whole time, from his vantage from the sky. He was watching in his helicopter, you see.” He paused, then went on. “But you did not die. On the contrary, you ran out of the devastated club completely unscathed, chasing after my poor secretary. And when you ran out alive, Mr. Assassin, also known as Officer Stevens, was careful to act the part of your old friend, though he led you very cunningly to crash into an upraised bridge. This, too, failed to kill you, and Stevens was certainly unhappy with that result.” Reynolds looked at Stevens, who, silent, was still in his 224

An Unlikely Death attitude of shame. “But that didn’t last,” continued Mr. James. “For something unexpected happened. You decided to make alms with the collateral damage you had caused in the chase. You manned up to your responsibility. After seeing the work you did to renovate and make up for your wrongs, Stevens had a change of heart. It must have been quite an epiphany. He no longer desired your death. He realized, even, that it was wrong for him to want his record wiped. He visited me in my office again the next day, in the guise of Mr. Assassin. He would make his own reparations, he told me. He would serve the jail time and pay the fines his crimes deserved. He told me not to wipe his record, and to stop the attempts on your life. What a true friend! But we had a contract. Unknown to him, I had already wiped his record clean. I didn’t want to go through the effort to return his wrongs. I refused him. I trusted his original assessment, not his qualms of conscience. By that point, Reynolds, you really were becoming a fly in the ointment; you would ruin everything. Just because Stevens wanted to renege did not mean I shouldn’t look out for my own interests. I still wanted you dead.” Reynolds nodded. “Go on,” he said. “Very well. From that point on he was your friend. Although the very idea of such a man having a friend is ridiculous. In any case, he had no convictions, and his allegiances were wishy-washy. How despicable he is. Not a dot of truth in him. He was never your true friend, Reynolds, not even at his best… but I have always been your true enemy…” Mr. James stopped, finished. He put his arms behind his head and leaned back, watching Reynolds expectantly. He was self-pleased. “Now,” he said. “What do you think 225

Darwen Amos of your fellow officer? Is he not despicable, a travesty of a human being? What do you think of your friend now? You hate him, don’t you? In fact, why don’t you pick up your rifle and shoot him right now, in the name of justice?” A moment passed. Mr. James continued to watch Reynolds with an expectant smile. Reynolds did not head toward the rifle. Instead, he merely smiled, and looked directly at Mr. James. Mr. James’s expression soured. “Well?” he said. “What’s the hold-up?” Reynolds smiled, not moving toward the rifle. He shook his head in pity of his opponent. “You want me to kill my friend?” he asked softly. “In the name of justice? No James, that’s where you’re wrong. Don’t you know the policeman’s code? No matter what policemen do, they’re good people, through and through. That’s the policeman’s code. And even if a policeman commits a bad action, it’s always for the greater good. We aren’t criminals like you. I’m sure Officer Stevens had a morally valid reason for what he did, and I for one do not care what it was. I simply trust him… as a friend.” With that, he smiled over at Stevens, friends once more. Stevens used all his energy to offer a weak smile of gratitude. “Thanks… old pal….” he said. “Don’t mention it,” replied Reynolds, with a nod. Mr. James roared in anger and leapt out of his seat, taking out his remote control. He looked like a fat panther about to pounce. “Activate Magnetron!!!” he commanded snarlingly, pressing a button the remote. Suddenly, before Reynolds’s dazzled upturned eyes, the rooftop of the skyscraper, which was also the high ceiling of the room he was in, opened outward toward the 226

An Unlikely Death sky, like an opened cardboard pizza delivery box. This discovered the black night sky above them. The white moon loomed over them both. A sense of vulnerability, of infinite space expanding in all directions, overcame Reynolds with the impact of vertigo. The stars had come out, and dizzily circled in the black sky… Meanwhile, Mr. James pressed another button on the remote. Matching his turn of mood, the neon tubing around the building lit up in a bloodthirsty red… The Magnetron, out in space, received its satellite command. Obeying its instructions, it moved across the sky and fired two highly charge magnetic beams, not far from each other, to Hawaii on earth. These beams were aimed both at metal and human flesh. They found their targets, and attached. Then the satellite began to retreat from the Earth, pulling hard… Reynolds, still gaping at the suddenly exposed night sky above him, was jerked by a sudden strange physical pull toward the stars. First his badge tore off his uniform, and plunged deep into the sky above, with the sound of a speeding boomerang. A moment later, out of the corner of his eye, he saw his rifle on the floor, also pulled up into the sky where, it entered the stars and vanished in a point of light. A series of rushing sounds assaulted his ears, as various objects and furniture from the room were torn up into the sky at tremendous speeds. A moment later, with sudden, unexpected force, Reynolds himself was propelled from his standing position into the air, far past the 227

Darwen Amos ceiling and into the night sky, 800 meters above sea meter, with the sound of rushing air. where he hovered in place. In the sudden, shooting movement, Reynolds immediately lost all bearing. It didn’t help that he now breathed in a nondescript sky of stars. Even in his bewilderment, Reynolds looked around him in amazement at those stars. He was now floating high above the ground, closer to the peak of heaven than ever before. The black night surrounded him. He felt strangely susceptible, and felt cold. With a sense of fear, he looked at his feet. Far below him, so far it looked like a toy sculpture, was the building he had been in only a moment before. Through the open roof he saw the infinitely tiny form of Stevens, still tied up. He looked around again. Surrounding him was a black void of stars. The moon rained its light on his forehead and body. The night air felt sharply cold and fresh. Suspended this high above the world, the oxygenated air was sharply fresh but difficult to breathe. He was joined shortly by Mr. James, who, having expected the sudden upward movement, was not at all thrown off. The evil Director rose up into the air with frightening speed, and came to an abrupt stop high above the roof of his tower, facing Reynolds directly about ten meters apart. His fat cheeks were bared in a grin, showing shark’s teeth. The moonlight made his teeth glimmer like jewelry. His hands were balled into powerful, tight fists. Out of his suit pocket dangled an antennae attached to his remote control…. A sound, like a garage door closing, transmitted from the lower world and reached Reynolds’s ears. He looked down. When he did, he saw the open roof of the skyscraper slowly close in again, returning to its former position. 228

An Unlikely Death Instead of a helipad, a large satellite was installed on the middle of the roof, remotely transmitting encrypted instructions to the Magnetron far, far away in outer space. “How do you like my new satellite?” snarled Mr. James. “Oh, never mind… isn’t the air around us simply bracing?” Reynolds tried to gasp out a response, but as soon as he opened his mouth the liquefied night air of the high altitude rushed into his lungs like a river-torrent of clean, foaming water, almost knocking him cold. He felt as if he had just run a five-mile sprint in ten minutes. His heart rate increased steeply and dangerously until it felt like there was a pounding jackhammer in his chest. His breath rapidly came in short rasping intakes. “You’re a quiet one, aren’t you?” said Mr. James, baring his teeth again. “Well! If you won’t listen to the words of language, perhaps I’ll translate it into the language of pain!” With these threatening words, Mr. James removed his remote from his pocket. Fiddling with a joystick, he commanded the Magnetron to propel him at tremendous speeds towards Reynolds. The Magnetron, far out in space, answered the call of its master obediently and swiftly. The corpulent body of Mr. James flew across the sky like a superhero in flight toward Reynolds, a single, balled fist extended… The fist slammed into Reynolds, launching him across the sky in zero gravity. A cry of pain escaped Reynolds into the air, then dissipated. As if they were in outer space, Reynolds’s injured body languidly drifted off away from Mr. James. A globule of blood hung suspended in the air, held up by the powerful extraterrestrial magnet. Reynolds was in pain, no doubt, sailing away into the dis229

Darwen Amos tance, but not dead. That wouldn’t do. That wouldn’t do at all. Mr. James once again removed his remote from his pocket. He pressed, the “Stabilize” button, pointing the remote directly at Reynolds’s floating body… Reynolds, drifting through the air, suddenly froze in his prone state. The Magnetron had sent, according to the “Stabilize” command, a series of magnetic lines which now pinned Reynolds into place in mid air. He tried to move his arm, and found he could not. His breathing, too, seemed immensely impaired. It was only with difficulty that he could even breathe. Mr. James approached him through the sky, baring his teeth in a shark’s grin… Now Mr. James was right next to Reynolds’s body, which was frozen in a stasis. Reynolds could only watch helplessly in fear… Mr. James apparently had been a boxer in his youth. The blows came endless and quick, with sharp, substantial impact. A sharp right jab cracked Reynolds in the nose, spilling blood. A right hook hit flush against the side of his head. Another jab. Then a left hook sharply struck his face. Crack! Pow! Snap! Powpow! A flurry of punches struck Reynolds everywhichwhere. Bones snapped, tendons crackled. The preliminaries for a two black eyes were fulfilled with a twinset of oculary jabs. I’m going to be feeling these bruises tomorrow, thought Reynolds, with defeatist dismay. Hope was lost… But then, suddenly, a glimmer of hope emerged, out of nowhere, into space. Mr. James, in a frenzy of energetic movement, had loosed the remote from his pocket and, with a powerful uppercut to Reynolds’s jaw, the remote floated out from his open pocket. The remote control floated serenely and lazily through 230

An Unlikely Death space, like a banana leaf on water… Reynolds knew he had to take his chance. Summoning every reserve of stretched in his body, he superhumanly forced his arms to moved. Reaching out against the polarizing force of the magnet, with every strain and effort, he extended his arm and grabbed the remote with two fingers, randomly pressing a button in the process… It was the yellow “Free Flight” button… The “Free Flight” button implemented an advanced, intelligent magnetic field around the given area. The “free flight” state worked perfectly but, to the public, it was considered to still be in its testing stages. The state thus engendered by “free flight” was an algorithmic environment which, through a heavy-code computer program, predicted one’s desired movement by the ancillary positions of the body taken before the actual execution of the movement. Once predicted, it assisted the perfect expression of the movement by fluctuating the magnetic fields in such a way that the process was facilitated with an enhanced ease. Every movement, rather than being arrested by air pressure, would be sped up, imbued with magnetic force. In other words, any step forward taken under “free flight” would result in a run. Every bodily revolution would become a top-spin. A slight jump would become a launch into flight. A punch thrown under these circumstances would have megaton force. The Magnetron would impart superhuman assistance of velocity and force to every human movement under its field, exponentially. This application of the Magnetron was designed for eventual military use, and would, after some testing, provide the military with super-soldiers who had all the abilities of comic-book supermen. Suddenly, to Reynolds, spatial movement opened up 231

Darwen Amos with unprecedented freedom and ease. His body no longer felt pressed in and, rather than feeling suspended, he felt that all three dimensions had suddenly opened up for him. He was, in other words, a humanoid bird with the kingdom of the skies at his beck and call. Mr. James’s next punch seemed to be coming at him in slow motion… He easily dodged the approaching punch. Mr. James, who had taken it for granted that his opponent was suspended and held in place, sailed past Reynolds with an extended fist, eyes opening wide in surprise. With immense speed Reynolds turned around, and found himself facing Mr. James’s prone, susceptible back. With a single swift movement he traversed the two meters that separated them. With superhuman speed, he raised his arm and tapped Mr. James on the back with an extended finger, calling his attention. Mr. James turned around to face the smiling Reynolds. Reynolds exulted. In eyes of the Mr. James was an exquisite combination of fear and surprise. “Hey there,” said Reynolds with a grin. He brought his fist back. His opponent’s eyes widened further. With megaton force Reynolds propelled his balled fist at Mr. James face, and connected with a satisfying thwack! The impact was critical. Propelled down by the force of the punch, which was aimed downwards, Mr. James fell in a freefall back down toward the roof of his building, screaming in pain and flailing his arms through space. He fell further and further until he was level with the rooftop of his building, where he regained his posture and stopped, looking up at Reynolds high above him. He now knew what had happened. That cop Reynolds had pressed the “Free Flight” button on his remote… At the thought that his own weapon had been used against him, his belly 232

An Unlikely Death filled with a white-hot anger. Eyes flashing with rage, Mr. James pondered his new move. The situation had worsened for him, but it was still entirely conquerable. He had, after all, practiced in the “Free Flight” mode, while Reynolds was a tyro. He would be able to better utilize the nuances of the program and, now that he had his bearings, would decimate Reynolds in a fair fight. With new confidence he assumed the position to fly into the sky again, to meet Reynolds head on, and to destroy him… Suddenly, the sounding of a robotic voice made him stop. “Security Breach! Security Breach!” shouted the tower computer. “Satellite in danger! Turrets… aiming!” In an instant of epiphany Mr. James realized where he was. Reynolds’s punch had sent him careening back down to the roof and the tower computer thought that he was a spy trying to destroy the rooftop communicator satellite! Damn! He looked wildly around him. On the four corners of the roof, over which he was flew a scant five meters, the gun turrets had swiveled round and aimed their sights directly at his body. “Turrets… firing!” yelled the tower computer. “Oh shi-” started Mr. James. There was no time for other profanities. The roof turrets opened fire, sending an endless array of machine-gun bullets through the pressure-points of his portly body. He made a wide target. Suspended in the air, Mr. James’s stationary body was ripped into shreds by his own bullets…

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Chapter Sixteen A Piece of Cake

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ith Mr. James destroyed, the Magnetron, in the absence of new orders, gently deposited Reynolds onto the sandy beach of the island. Reynolds landed softly on his feet in the sandy shore. The dawn was breaking. Before Reynolds’s tired eyes, the night gave way to the first glimmerings of morning. The sun peeked out above the line of water in the horizon, sending its yellow rays all across the world. This was hope… He took off his shoes, and waited. He enjoyed the feeling of beach sand in between his toes. A coconut had fallen next to him, and he now picked it up and began eating it, peel and all, enjoying its sweet, crisp crunch. He watched the sun rising. His back was to the building, which was now only an empty shell which had once been home to evil. A toucan flew across the berth of the sky. He was tired, but happy. In the far distance he could see a 234

An Unlikely Death ship approach, slowly but certainly for the island. When it got nearer, Reynolds could read the ship’s title, emblazoned on its white prow in clear, large black lettering: UK Rescue Ship 0892 Ah! So the United Kingdoms had come to rescue him! He’d rather it have been an American ship, but to be honest, an American ship may have been filled with enemies, loyal followers of Mr. James, now deceased. He smiled as the ship approached the island of Hawaii. When he thought the ship would be able to spot him, he ran up to the shore with excitement, happily waving his arms in the air, signaling it to come to him. “Right here, right here!” Reynolds yelled, waving his arms about and jumping up and down. The rescue ship gave a toot of steam in acknowledgment. Slightly changing its course, the ship arrived at the optimal angle for Reynolds to embark it. The sight filled Reynolds with happiness. What was in his future? With America in a bad state, it would be a while before people could get back to the normal state of life. Yes, it would be a while, but it wouldn’t be forever. He would watch with happy eyes as the many FBI buildings Mr. James had installed under his tyrannical reign came crashing down, victims of the powerful wrecking balls of American democracy. He would, also, watch with equally smiling eyes as the formerly destructed schools, churches, and charity buildings were rebuilt, homes to the needy once again. And of course, the police would be needed to keep safety. He looked down at his uniform, which was tattered and covered with dirt. Even in this dismal, unlaundered 235

Darwen Amos state the sight of his uniform filled his breast with pride. He knew the feeling of being an officer of the law, and this was it. He was always watching a ship approaching, ever vigilant… The rescue ship made anchor. The steady stream of smoke which had been pouring out from its top decreased, then stopped entirely. In the shining rays of the morning sun, the white rescue ship looked like the steed of a white knight… and Reynolds was the knight to ride it. A staircase extended out from the side of the ship, finding purchase in the soft white sand below. Officers of the ship filed down the staircase, motioning to Reynolds to board the ship. “Hey!” shouted out one of the sailors. “Get aboard!” Reynolds smiled, and began his walk toward the ship. But as he did, his cell phone rang. He removed it from his pocket and answered it. It was the president. “Thank you for defeating Mr. James,” said the president. “The world is a democracy once more.” Reynolds hung up, and began walking toward the rescue ship again. Another call. This time it was Reynolds’s wife, Susan. “Come home for dinner,” she said. “Did you have a hard day at work?” Reynolds had to smile. “Nah,” he replied, shaking his head. “Piece of cake.” September 2003 – November 2009

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ABOUT THE AUTHOR ————————————————————

Photo by Olga Drozdova Darwen Amos was born in Hendersonville, Tennessee where, from a very young age, he showed talent in fictional literature. At the age of twenty-three, he published his first book, A Vision of Time. Although the book was not critically acclaimed, it garnered a small following that was dedicated to him and his unique style. Amos did not publish another book until seventeen years later. Unlike his previous work, Charlie’s Method became a bestseller in Tennessee and was the first of his popular “Charlie Trilogy.” His titular character, Charlie, was known for a brash style of speaking that charmed readers and swelled Amos’ base of loyal readers. Energized by his success, Amos started to write at a steady pace. In 1995 Amos moved to Switzerland where he met his wife Lara, returning to Tennessee by 2000. Amos’s literary style was much influenced by his stay in Switzerland, as evidenced by his later works, many of which take place there. As of 2005, Amos has written eleven books, five of which have reached best-seller status in his home state. Amos currently resides in Jackson, Tennessee with his wife Lara, and their two cats, Julius and Stephanie.

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