Cha 8 from LionWorld by William E Justin
Copyright 2011 All Rights Reserved

Ethan Vulerummer dressed to leave his suite atop the massive V Corp building which served as both his personal residence and the headquarters of his vast media empire. Among people in the know it was often referred to as “the lion’s den” because of his position as chairman of the, The Seven Lion’s of Private Control. This shadowy organization at the center of world Fascism held many of their meetings right there. He got dressed and put on a cap and glasses to mask his appearance some. It was four in the morning and the chances now of being recognized were very slim. He moved several rooms over into a modest reception area and tapped a command into his Deep Water Communicator. The elevator door opened as he sent out a second command that alerted his personal security crew he would be going to walk a few blocks over to The Beast Bar— the place he slipped off to a once or twice a year, where classic Lion-fighting matches were always on the big screen this time of the morning. His access to old video was fully endowed of course, but he liked sitting with good, ordinary Fascist fans of the sport. These people weren’t the sharpest tools in the shed but were at least sincere in their desire to contribute to group will. This term came from the writings of Karl Darwin Hitler, the Austrian philosopher, scholar and researcher from the previous century. Vulerummer began to read Hitler as a teenager when he discovered the man was the inspiration for his own hero Lord Rashling. Hitler was noted for his thoughts that the movement toward Democracy that had enveloped his own time, was against nature. It thwarted or at least interfered with, the reliable and longstanding method in the animal kingdom to form male-dominated families and clans for the purpose of controlling local habitats. In an environment where “survival of the fittest” ruled, Democracy allowed lesser men—and women—a basic equal status that could legally set a boy against his father and an idiot against an experienced or wise man. Hitler saw no use for Democracy. His critics argued that Mankind had obtained victory over the lower animal forms for as long as anyone could remember. Man was “the fittest” and he had no business imitating the lower animal forms. He possessed a superior mind and some would say, a soul. Through the human mind, Man could easily control his environment and bring the world into the desirable state of harmonious enrichment for all. Having a basic equal status with other adults would allow for a rising up above petty criminality and competition. Karl Darwin Hitler thought Democracy was farfetched and a passing fad. He predicted that cracking open the rigid caste system that had propelled Mankind to the forefront of the animal world would only lead to something he named Socialism—a condition that would breed indolence as each of “the equal” sought to take “the big part of the stick” and leave their fellows with the bulk of the heavy lifting. He foresaw the forming of worker’s unions and profit-sharing plans that would compete directly against the elite for privilege and wealth that would rob the great activators of group will —whom would naturally become less interested in providing the big ideas and tough decisions for the group to follow. What had transpired in reality turned out to be a blending of Fascism and Socialism; a Democracy that was phantasmagoric—real in the sense that votes were generally tallied as marked by the voters; unreal in the sense that people were “branded” and herded into stalls like cattle—mainly through media. Average were citizens subtly coerced into obeying group will as it was designated by leaders with clever sycophants who became forecasters of Democratic trends while developing a keen insight into human behavior. Hitler would’ve looked at all of this and shrugged and pointed out the unmistakable truth that this is what happens when the rigid caste system

is cracked open prematurely. Women—much too emotional and dedicated to their offspring to achieve the ruthlessness needed for good decision-making; people too close to the natural world such as the Native Americans that never adjusted well to the workload assigned by advanced civilizations such as the Europeans; and those who were just born too low on the genetic scale to see things in the proper light—all of these people who would not have been given true “equal status” in a pure Fascist system, had instead contributed to a general reduction of group will. But Karl Darwin Hitler wasn’t exactly a racist or classist. His own research proved that some members of the lower castes would inexplicably bloom with higher quality traits even when there was no visible reason for it. There was more then mere, rank genetics going on but he could never explain it other then in mystical terms that further ostracized him from his contemporaries whom he considered to be hopelessly grounded in a fundamentalist scientism. He pushed for the inclusion of prodigies from the lower classes in the best Fascist university classes when they proved able to make their debut. Hitler’s clinging to this ideal of pure Fascism was ultimately thought archaic by his fellow scholars. Ethan Vulerummer had consumed all of Hitler. He admired him as a theorist and researcher. But his great role-model in life was not the lesser-known scholar from Austria that contributed some to the intellectual canon of his day, but the great man-of-action who made the tough decisions he believed had saved the world from Socialism—the British Lord Rashling. There was a hidden elevator landing in the V Corp Building between street level and the parking garage. It opened into a tunnel attached to a portion of a side at the base of the building, and bent up a set of steps to a steel door leading to the street. From above and from the street, this feature appeared to be an equipment shed. The code that unlocked the steel door was found only in Vulerummer’s Deep Water Communicator. Janitors from his security crew serviced the tunnel and steel door from each side but could not pass through it. On those few occasions when he used this exit, his security would wait until there were no passerby’s before sending him a signal to come out. He usually avoided the exit because there were so many people coming up and down the street in front of it that he would often have to stand there for up to 10 minutes before getting a clean exit. But it was very early this morning and the world beyond the steel door was flushed with a thick fog and he received the signal the moment he came to the door. Outside the V Corp building, Vulerummer marveled at that fog. He had never seen it so thick. He could barely see the first of his security men who was customarily standing at the curbs edge directly in front of the steel door. The man flashed the standard Fascist greeting sign—thumb and fingers coiled except for the long finger which was pushed out and pointing down toward the ground with the rest of the hand. Everywhere, Fascists would “show you the finger” when it appeared you were one of them. They had a different sign for the Democrats. Vulerummer’s security men showed him the finger in a slightly different way however—the thumb was sunken into the pants pocket as the other hand tapped on the opposite leg. This and the fact that his men would only stare down at his shoes—never making eye contact—let him know they were on the job. He had no personal relationships with his men. He barely recognized any of their faces. He had never experienced any incident that could even be loosely called, a breach of security. His crew was fully attentive. There were some excellent reasons for that. He actually had three layers of security around him that were interlaced. The first was in charge of direct protection of his person. The second was in charge of spotting any members of the first team that were allowing, or had caused a breach. If Vulerummer died or was hurt, the person who allowed it happen would be instantly killed or, if the conditions were too public, then the team member would marked for death and killed as quickly as possible. A third layer of security was concerned strictly with administration, oversight and coordination of the first two. Unspeakable things would occur to the families of anyone who even thought to betray Ethan Vulerummer. Then that person himself would be killed. The chairman of the Seven Lions spent over 65 million dollars a year on his personal security alone. He considered it money wellspent. There was nothing secret about the fact that the Democrats who gained all of the real leadership positions inside of World Security were out to eliminate him and the other six members of The Seven Lions cabal. And those people were at least as good and ruthless as his team. Plus, their resources were far greater. Whenever he looked out his window atop the V Corp building, he half expected to see a missile flying toward him. But people rarely knew just where he was and even the World Security Democrats couldn’t get away with killing large amounts of citizens trying to get him. So all-in-all, he felt fairly secure.

As he walked the two blocks up the street to The Beast Bar, Vulerummer gradually became aware of the members of his security crew that filled positions along the way. Each flashed the extended version of the Fascist greeting. One man had gotten out in front of him and another behind him. Five others stood at the curbside and would move with him until the next one appeared. They provided a kind of moving perimeter of protection. Others were already inside the bar subtly setting up their positions. Several more were in a securing van nearby coordinating the effort. From a position at the front of the V Corp building, sharpshooters and spotters were set up to guard against gunman from the buildings across the street even though on this particular day, the fog was so thick that long distance would-be shooters would not be of much concern. You couldn’t even see the building on the opposite side of the wide avenue. Still, despite the low-risk conditions, the security team was on edge. While they usually kept themselves busy with drills, this morning was real time. On the few occasions when “the boss” went on these impromptu walkabouts, they earned the large amounts of money they were paid. Each security man was not only guarding Vulerummer’s life, but his own as well. There was no doubt in any of their minds that their jobs were strictly limited to zero mistakes. Inside The Beast Bar, the chairman of The Seven Lions of Private Control—the world’s richest man—looked like just another patron. He could’ve been any of the many business men who commuted into Manhattan City early each day to avoid the crowds. The place was of good size. It featured a main bar and a secondary bar that was open during the peak hours. There was a third horseshoe-shaped bar set up with a grill and set of barstools that was always open. Several large screen televisions were well-placed so patrons could all have a good view of the sports action. The establishment itself was to be voted one of the top five sports bars in Manhattan City until an analyst from the security team spotted this while going through the pre-editions of V Corp publications and had it removed from the list. There was a moderate crowd for this time of the day. Vulerummer ordered coffee at the main bar. He recognized the bartender. He even remembered her name. It was Greta. A good Fascist woman. She wouldn’t remember him though since he only went to the place once or twice a year. But on his previous visit he’d sat down at the bar and heard her talking to one of the regulars. The men liked her. She showed a generous portion of breast meat and had a clever wit. She wasn’t a prostitute however but a single mom. He had liked the overall package. Under ordinary circumstances he would’ve liked to have spent time with someone like her but his position forbid such things. He kept to prostitutes and an occasional, ambitious employee. He had a wife but he rarely saw her. She lived on the other side of town in a top-of-the-line bird cage he’d built for her. He had a team that kept her in limbo on a special diet of pharmaceuticals and prostitutes disguised as workmen. They could dust her off and bring her back to a semi-normal state for the few occasions he needed to bring her out in public. She provided him with a couple of kids who hadn’t amounted to much. His father had warned him not to marry her, but as a young woman she had been cute, flirtatious, ambitious and could perform oral sex better then anyone. She’d had a few good seasons and could still perform the few duties he assigned to her, but that was about it. Ethan Vulerummer wasn’t a romanticist to say the least. It seemed to him that women in general went out their way to fulfill the limited expectations that men such as Karl Darwin Hitler had given them through objective observance of their lot. The fact that they had won the privilege to vote was mostly due to their ability to leverage sex. This was the classic Fascist view and Vulerummer more or less agreed with the assessment. He took his cup of coffee from Greta the bartender. She smiled at him and kind of pushed out her chest a little. He smiled back and walked over to a table nearby to see which of the classic Lion-fighting matches they were playing. He instantly recognized the match. It was from early in the decade. The Le Muffet Crew was in Ireland going up against Celtic Talls. As Vulerummer could recall, this was the fourth season Big-E White and Maxim Le Muffet had been working together. This team was often considered the greatest Lion-fighting crew of all time. It featured Merle Le Muffet opposite his brother and outside spearmen Wild Willie Jones and Abu Rakani. Jones and Rakani were in the final years of solid Lion-fighting careers and would be replaced during the next two seasons by Bill and Ronnie Le Muffet. Maxim had become so good on his high-tech leg that some people were saying the artificial knee and foot were giving him an unfair advantage. The prosthetic had an intricate array of fluid-driven torsion lifters built into it that he had learned to use for maximum spring. It also featured “smart foam” mounting in which copolymer molecules would condense differently depending on whether he was walking or bolting. A similar system gave the knee and foot assembly variation based on the measures of force he was using. By the fourth year, Max had fully mastered the leg and now it appeared that the prosthetic was superior to the original although he ada-

mantly denied this. In his youth, the six-foot-eight-inch Maxim could pick a quarter off the top of a basketball backboard—incredible vertical height for someone his size. Twice he had shattered a hind leg of a Tall Lion with pump kicks. He explained the he could do neither of these things with the prosthetic. He had never come close to getting back to the level of quickness it required to display the full set of martial arts skills he had once possessed. If he had a superior leg he explained, he would’ve gone back to the role of battalier. Instead he became the world’s greatest inside spearman pursuing fleeing lions with spectacular leaps and bounds that often ended up with him “going horizontal” in a final burst and appearing like a missal with his spear out in front of him ready to pierce the lion’s heart through the shoulder blades. And by his fourth season with the Le Muffet Crew, Big-E White was firmly fixed in what became a ten year period of perfect physical mastery and martial arts-based Lion-fighting expertise. His quickness was only matched by his cunning and an innate ability to achieve a kind of 360 degree field awareness. The alpha male Tall lions could never gain any real leverage against him and would flail away at what their instinctive memory told them was a great ape dinner that could be easily killed and consumed. But that great ape became a dancing illusion as Big-E rapidly moved like fire in each direction as the beast pounced on and clawed at the thin air it was left with. Then finally, caught up in the gaze of this illusion, the lion would go blank for a long moment. The last thing it would hear was the wind whipping force of the bat as it came to the side of its head. They would never even feel the equally forceful slice of the blade a few seconds later as it cut toward the back of their thick necks. On many occasions, Big-E never even used the blade. Max, having quickly disposed of the second male would appear right at the very moment the bat was beginning to go into its final motion. He would spring toward the lion and drop down on it from his high leap with spear pointing downward as it was expertly driven into the heart through the shoulder blades. Vulerummer watched the big screen set up near the horseshoe-shaped grill set up at the center of the large room. The Lion-fighters were still in the hunting phase of the match. The camera crew and tranquilizer dart shooters were still moving about, springing up on their tripod-like stilts sighting the pride of eight lion that was fanning out and moving toward them. They were passing information back to the ground and Maxim was taking it and setting up the field of battle with commands to the others about where to position themselves. While some fans thought of this as the least exciting part of the match, the more advanced aficionados of the sport regarded it as deeply crucial and fascinating. Decisions made at this point could make or break a crew and leave them fleeing off in defeat, or worst. Max jutted his spear up signaling to one of the shooters to go into the air at the point he was positioned at. Then he popped onto a large rock and spotted one of the smaller cats moving around their outer flank. He gave the order to fire and soon the cat was stumbling about in the distance feeling the effect of the tranquilizer. Something similar to this was repeated twice more in the ten minutes that followed and when the sixth Lion went down, a voice familiar to Lion-fighting fans everywhere sounded off. Vance Tillman, the veteran Lion-fighting broadcaster was calling the play-by-play based on the video signal provided by the on-site camera crew and patched into a single stream by the director of the broadcast who sometimes also functioned as the official in charge of declarations of facts and enforcement of rules. The match official said when lions and Lion-fighters were truly down or run out of the game. He scored the match based on the effectiveness and timing of the participants to eliminate individual lions and Lion-fighters from play. Tillman along with his color commentator—which in this match had been Big-E’s dad Buster White, would speak in quiet tones like golf broadcasters. This habit went back to the days before video and high tech electronics when the matches were on radio and the broadcasters and match official were out in the field with the lion-fighters. They would bring ladders and climb up in trees or take high, safe positions nearby, but were close enough to the match that they had to keep their voices down. In this modern era, they were often miles away in satellite trucks or even thousands of miles away in studios. In this particular match, Vance Tillman, Buster White and the match director and officials were sitting in a studio in Chicago far away from the actual action taking place in Ireland. But they still maintained the muted tones for effect. But when the sixth lion went down and five Lion-fighters were going up against five Celtic Talls, it was official and the familiar voice sounded off in a loud rising tone that ended the charade. It was Buster White saying: “Folks, it looks like we’ve got ourselves a Lion-fight!” This was Buster’s signature call and it brought about what was known by fans as “the opening grrrrr”. While this particular match was only a taped video and everyone already knew the outcome, still some of the patrons at The Beast Bar sounded off with the traditional welcoming of an official match. Ethan Vulerummer was among

them. He regarded the grrrrr sound as the truest expression of the pure Fascist Group Will written about by Karl Darwin Hitler—the binding together of group intent through a common bestial impulse given voice in unison. Twenty minutes later the classic match between The Le Muffet Crew and the Celtic Talls reached its stunning crescendo. A single camera had Merle Le Muffet and Big-E White battling two large alpha males. Usually a second alpha male would be attacked by Maxim. But there was confusion as they were setting up and it went instead to Merle. As the lion approached him, Merle had used a four-foot section of ground rock as a device to count how many strides he had between the position and a gulch that sat off about forty feet. He instantly knew exactly how many four-foot strides there would be between him and a fall into the deep pit. As the lion approached him he set up with his back to the gulch and began to trade jabs with the beast as, stride by stride, he gave ground. The lion gained ferocity as Merle let it push him backwards toward the deep pit. This was the oldest method spearmen used to get leverage. But it was usually done in the open field and on flat ground. Meanwhile in the foreground Big-E was dancing about smacking at the Lion’s paw as it tried to get leverage on him. He caught a glimpse of Merle being driven into the pit of the gulch and let loose a surge against his own lion with the intent of getting over to aide him. The combination unleashed by Big-E White was something nobody had seen before. First the bat and then the blade and it happened so quickly and with so much force that the Celtic Tall went to the ground in a loud thud seemingly dead upon arrival. Slow motion replays showed an almost simultaneous attack upon the lion by both bat and blade powered by a quick double jerk from Big-E’s upper body. When he looked up toward Merle, he saw another lion flying toward him from down a gradient. He turned and tried to fix himself in such a way that he could flatten out his body and roll out the other side of what appeared would be a flying pounce by a charging three-hundred and fifty pound cat. But the lion wasn’t coming after him. It was trying to escape from Maxim who came flying into Big-E’s view then bounded upward again toward a five foot embankment the lion was cutting around. Max’s long, high jump did make it appear as if he were propelled by some kind of rocket. He came down with a blood-curdling scream and his spear in the back of the lion. All of his weight and force was behind it and the spear came though the chest of the beast as he landed and the two rolled off into a skid that kicked up a cloud of dust. Later, people would call it “the spear slam” and along with Big-E’s blinding combo, appear on Lion-fighting highlight reels again and again. As his older brother was finishing off the “spear slam”, Merle heard Maxim’s “victory scream” and suddenly attacked the alpha male Celtic Tall that became distracted for a half-a-second . Like a riveting machine, he rapidly stuck his spear into and back out of the lion’s brain through both eye sockets, then finally, into its heart through

the chest. In less then five full seconds, a single camera position recorded three Celtic Talls being driven into death by the Le Muffet Crew. It was the most condensed sequence of Lion-fighting action ever photographed. “Oh my!” yelled Vance Tillman. “Holy shit!” said Buster White. Even though it was five o’clock into the morning and most of the fans at The Beast Bar had seen this video many times before, the place erupted with the climatic grrrrr sound. And Ethan Vulerummer was foremost among them. It just made him feel damn proud to be a Fascist American! In the aftermath of the match, Vance Tillman and Buster White were chatting about the different events that had gone down. The crowd in the bar began to quiet as the audio came to a point many of them remembered well. The bartender, Greta, took hold of the remote controller to turn the video off but a few people protested and she smiled at them and feigned an “all right”. She always did that when she played this particular old classic —just to see if anyone was paying attention. “…and what about that Big-E?” said Vance Tillman. “You must be really proud of your son Buster? He just seems to be getting stronger with every match. What is it?” Buster replied thoughtfully and sounded somewhat detached from the moment. “I don’t know Vance….something’s gotten into him. I know that lately, he’s been getting good regular pussy, that could be it.” The crowd chuckled but at the time, Buster’s faux pas stirred up a minor scandal. Women’s groups called for his ouster and the event presaged the one two years later that put an end to his broadcasting career. For several weeks prior to this, Big-E and Coco had become an item in the entertainment press. They had been dating for a while and rumors were swirling of an emanate engagement to be married. When Buster made his remark, and touched off the squall, they had a field day. One of Vulerummer’s publications, Daily Scoop Of ran a front page picture of Big-E and Coco holding hands along with a large bold-type headline: BIG-E & GRP TO TIE THE KNOT! A smaller picture in the corner showed Buster with a raunchy expression on his face and the caption: Will Buster White Be Attending The Ceremony? The answer to that was no. Coco, now labeled GRP by the cultural parasite, didn’t come out of her apartment for a week. She wanted to see the old man driven from the airways and so played the role of heroine. Big-E couldn’t have cared less about if his dad retained his position. He’d heard worst then that his entire life from Buster. Men in general didn’t see what the big deal was. Some even began to introduce their wives and girlfriends as “my GRP”. And some women began to take it as a compliment. Robert Casoni however, decided that none of this was good for any of them and he had a long telephone conversation with Buster. The old man came out with a video apology that put the matter to rest. He had been friends with an old comic actor named Redd Sanford and had learned a lot from him. In the video, Buster made his apology with a deeply pained expression on his face. “Son, I’m only glad that your late mother wasn’t here to see this”. Buster briefly glanced skyward and even managed to somehow squeeze a teardrop out of one of his eyes and let it roll down his cheek. Then he angled his cheek toward one of the studio lights so it would glisten more. When Big-E saw this on TV, he let out a ..ppwww.. and walked out of the room. To everyone else it appeared to be a genuine apology. It was never accepted by Coco however and the event marked the beginning of her contempt and disgust of the old man. Vulerummer had been amused by it all and even toyed with the idea of buying up the broadcast company that held Buster’s contract so that he could personally mess with him and perhaps have his people find better ways of exploiting the old man’s “talents”. He kind of liked him but thought he was a can of beans that had been left out in the sun for too long. He quickly dismissed the idea as frivolous though and came to regret it later when Buster said what he said on the last day of his broadcasting career. What he said ended up costing Vulerummer far more then what this company would have. But all of that had receded into the past. Ethan Vulerummer felt satiated and even a bit jovial. His impromptu excursion to The Beast Bar had dulled the weight brought by his many business involvements. There was a meeting soon between The Seven Lions of Private Control and a decision to be made about how much freshly printed money would be injected into the banking systems world-wide. Economists were now making factual connections between these regular inputs of capital “created out of thin air” and the ever-growing rupture that was occurring between the financial haves and have-nots of the world. And they were becoming less successful in suppressing this knowledge—even with Vulerummer’s massive control of western media and his large stable of public officials. Times were rapidly changing and the push for rapid development of the wildlands was being touted by the Democrats as the only possible solution. But the creation of new communities and opportunity

could only be obtained by the enlargement of Socialism, and that could only come at the expense of world Fascism. This latest permutation of the Democratic “experiment” was dangerous. In Vulerummer’s view, it would cause the “giant sucking sound” of lower caste people being drawn into all of the various sectors; a kind of “Mexican Invasion” on a world-wide scale. For The Seven Lions of Private Control this was completely unacceptable. The only tenable fix for the problem was a “pruning back” of lower caste people such as what Lord Rashling had accomplished during The Last War. Rashling hadn’t possessed their technology and savvy and had much more of a numbers problem in terms of people that needed to be disposed of. The Fascists had already tested many methods. They discovered they could infect lower caste people with a package that included certain slowacting poisons, psychological constraints delivered through cultural means, and long-odds gambling programs such as the legalization of wild-land running. That men could be made to throw their lives away to fringe lion for a slim chance to make a hundred bucks was proof that they were incapable of making use of the many educational opportunities that even the homeless were offered in the attempt by Democrats to raise the lower castes up spiritually, intellectually and through proper physical culturing. Karl Darwin Hitler had been correct in the view of Vulerummer and others among the Fascists. For them, it was the intellectual “eggheads” that failed to listen to what Hitler was saying. Vulerummer and The Seven Lions organization had only one problem. While they controlled so much and knew fully well how to make their puppets dance, still they lacked the final tool needed that would allow for “the pruning” to take place and bring world Fascism back into full prominence. The Thumb. This underlying and overarching monitoring solution for data gathering, filtering and dissemination would ultimately determine whether information was controlled by laws or by Fascists. If Vulerummer and The Seven Lions organization possessed The Thumb, they would have an unbeatable hand that would allow them to implement “the pruning” and drive back Socialism. So as he left The Beast Bar, Ethan Vulerummer was momentarily free of the great stress brought by his lot in life. He considered himself as leader of what he called, The 3rd Phase of Hitler; the final victory of Fascism in the modern world. It wasn’t anything he had bargained for or set out to do, but it was a job that had to be done. It felt good to be out from underneath of its weight for even a short time. He left an average-sized tip on the table for Greta the bartender so she would have no cause to remember him. On his way out, he didn’t really notice a man and women sitting at a nearby table. But they had been observing him since he came in. Not so much the man, but the woman. He’d sized them up when he first sat down then lost interest. They were some kind of thirty-something couple, drunk and making puppy love eyes at each other—probably married people cheating on their spouses. Neither he nor his security men inside the bar saw the woman stealing little glances at him when they weren’t looking in her direction. Kerri Branghaue had a strange dream at about 3 p.m. that day while she was napping on the sofa inside her office at World Security Regional Command in Southern California. She’d gotten maybe twenty minutes of sleep when the phone rang and she was awakened. The first part of this odd dream did make a lot of sense to her. In it she was viewing the steel door from the tiny structure attached to the side of the V Corp building in Manhattan City. She had spent a lot of time looking at the door in the real world, going through the volumes of still pictures recorded of it by a surveillance camera across the avenue. She could see it as natural that it would up in a dream. Branghaue had become fascinated by the door. It never opened—at least during the eleven months of photos that were taken of it at 15 second intervals, twenty-four hours a day. She had already briefly viewed around 15million digital instances of that steel door during the previous 9 months since she had begun going through them. When she took on the task the previous March, she had only four months of shots to look at but rapidly began to lose ground. She decided to quit after she had viewed a full twelve months of the images. At first, she naively thought a motion-recognition program would make a quick job of it. But programs such as that were made for extremely static targets and they couldn’t just put a camera right in front of the door to track changes. From it’s vantage point across the street, there were endless intrusions of motion in the frames. She had to click through each of the photos individually and soon was losing ground to the ever-clicking surveillance camera. It felt to her now like she was viewing stills of that door during all of her spare time. She could’ve assigned people to go through the volumes of pictures but that would’ve raised questions as to why she was using World Security resources on such a thing. They already had a good sense that behind the door was a pair of tunnels leading to a possible hidden elevator landing—the blueprints to the building had left strong

traces of that possibility. But apparently nobody ever used the door. She was expecting that door and connecting tunnels were built for Ethan Vulerummer. She came to feel she was spinning her wheels on the project and really had lost hope in gathering any real intelligence from the task. But she ended up continuing it as a kind of nervous habit when she was sitting at her desk thinking, or when waiting in a reception room. It was driving her a little mad that the door never opened. The steel door was functional. She had somebody go by and do a visual inspection and wiggle it. Images in the volumes of frames showed it was cleaned on a regular basis by building janitors. But that proved nothing. Even if Vulerummer was spotted walking out of the steel door in one of the pictures, it wouldn’t lead far. She just wanted to know which direction he’d go on the street if in fact he did use the door. If he went to his left, she might have a tiny lead. There had been a piece of data they’d received from several years back suggesting Vulerummer had shown up at a sports bar down the street. Somebody thought they recognized him and mentioned it to somebody else. Still, this entire path of investigation was worst then the needle in the haystack. She had resolved to end her odd fetish after going through the full twelve months—it would be a grand total of twenty million pictures. She couldn’t let the task go without feeling like a failure. Kerri Branghaue didn’t permit herself that option in anything she did and would see the task through. The phone call that had awoken her from the dream wasn’t important. She switched on the TV to look at the afternoon news and there was a local whether report from Manhattan City saying dense fog was forecast for the morning there. That made her instantly think of the dream she’d just had. The steel door in the dream was partially obscured by a pea soup-like fog. That was weird. She couldn’t remember a single frame she had gone through that had been “fogged out”; and she hadn’t heard any weather reports that day—not from Manhattan City or anywhere else. As she was thinking about the oddness of this she began to roll through a section of digital frames. She viewed them at a rate of two per second. After about a minute, she watched the tumblers all fall into place like the code on a combination bicycle lock. A man came up, placed himself at the curb in front of the door; then the door opened. Then Ethan Vulerummer was out on the street turning to his left for a walk. Kerri was dumbfounded. Her jaw dropped and for a second it felt like she had partially gone outside of the perimeters of her body. She thought for a moment about the fog from the dream and the fog in the TV forecast. Then she made a spontaneous decision to reserve a World Security “burner jet” and go to Manhattan City. She called her secretary Bob and told him to cancel all of his plans for the next 24 hours. That they were going on a mission into the field. He was a level two agent and unattached like her. He was a good man and her friend and kind of cute. They would look right together if anyone were to notice them. She had resolved to go for a walk around the V Corp building and go check out the sports bar from the bit of intelligence. She didn’t plan to share her weak reasons for this with her secretary or anybody else. She was the most powerful level four agent in the American branch of World Security and answered only to Eric “Brick” Smith. So there would be no questions about what she was doing. In Manhattan City, she found her way to The Beast Bar after first going by the steel door. It was before dawn and a thick fog had rolled in as predicted. There was no way she could’ve expected Ethan Vulerummer to just come walking into room but that is exactly what happened. When he did she was surprised by her reaction. She didn’t have much of a reaction. It almost felt as if she were back napping on her office sofa and dreaming. Three men had come into the place in the minutes before Vulerummer had arrived. When he arrived she knew they were part of his security team. One of them sat down at the table next to them. She began to pretendfawn over Bob. She had told him earlier to play along with her in the event that her hoped-for target showed up. That was all he knew about what was in her mind. She hadn’t wanted to tell him she was playing a wild hunch and just said that she was on the look out for a certain key V Corp employee that was rumored to come to The Beast Bar sometimes in the hour before dawn. Kerri became very serious in her charade. She felt their lives could depend on it. If any of the security team even suspected she was stalking their boss they would be taken away and interrogated. She had a false legal persona and ID that would stand up but there was no reason to go to all that trouble for her secretary. He was only an office worker and didn’t do field work. That made him a weak link. So she poured it on and tried to make herself hot and bothered. Since he was cute it wasn’t difficult; and he wasn’t play acting like her. At some point she could tell he was thinking she had made all of this up for a bit of kinky romance with him and he was getting into it for real. The thought that kept going through her mind was. “I could kill Vulerummer right here and now”. That is if

she had had a weapon such as a gun or poison-injection pen, and if she was willing to sacrifice her own life to do it. But she hadn’t brought a weapon and while she loved her job, it wasn’t something she planned to die for! So in between smiles and little whispers—and even one kiss with Bob—she was asking herself; “So now what? Why am I here? What is it that I think I’m doing other then following Vulerummer around?” There seemed to be no point to any of this. She was merely playing out a mostly worthless line of investigation that would lead her to nothing more then the realization she was spinning her wheels. What had taken place was uncanny. That was for sure. But it was also practically worthless. Ethan Vulerummer walked down the street back toward the V Corp building. The fog was even thicker now and the light of day had not begun to dawn. His security team moved with him but they were not part of his thoughts. He was enjoying the fog and cool morning air. He came up the street and slowly made out the form of a shoeshine man setting up a stand with retractable wheels. He laughed to himself. The guy must’ve just rolled his cart in from out of the fog—coming from the opposite side of the avenue. He turned toward Vulerummer as he approached and one of the security men then noticed him and was ready to go up and drive him off. Vulerummer saw this and said, “wait!”. Then he told the security man to stand down but the man appeared ready to protest and Vulerummer said in a slightly sharper voice that he wanted “space”. The security man did what he was told although a slight panic was welling up in him. This type of thing wasn’t supposed to happen! Their job was to clear out the path in front of the boss in a situation like this. Vulerummer wasn’t sweating it however. He was in a good mood and even feeling a little playful. This would be a great opportunity to mess with his men and let them squirm for a few minutes. He approached the shoeshine man to size him up. The man turned toward him and said “good morning sir” in a pleasant voice. He even seemed to bow a little when he said it. Vulerummer saw the man had the countenance of a good professional service person. He looked to be around thirty years of age and was dressed in something that could be seen as a kind of uniform. He was an attractive young man but Vulerummer couldn’t make out his racial profile. The shoeshine man seemed to be darker skinned but he was seeing him in the fog through a set of various lights that hung from above and reflected off of the shiny white tiles of the building he had backed up against. He saw the shoeshine man had a pet with him sitting up on the chair of the rolling work station. It was a big black cat—a Himalayan variety with thick, fluffy fur. But the fur was neatly trimmed back from top of the neck making it look like some kind of lion. Vulerummer chuckled. “I like your cat!” he said to the shoeshine man as he came up. The man scooped up the cat and smiled. “He’s my little Lion”, he said shyly. “I keep him trimmed this way so he won’t feel so out of place. There are so many lions in the world now. “ “Yes, there are”, Vulerummer replied. “Hello little lion”. He ran his index finger softly across the face of the fluffy cat which looked back at him out of big green eyes filled with interest. The man was looking down at Vulerummer’s shoes. “Sir, are those KuoomGotti ?” “Yes. I see you know your shoes”. “This is my job”, said the man humbly in a clear, sparkling voice and with some reverence . “Oh, sir, the shoes skins have absorbed some moisture and there appears to be a dark spot…”. The shoeshine man went down on one knee to examine the shoes. He ran his hand across the toes of the shoe with a spot on it and looked up at Vulerummer with half-opened eye lids. There was a glowing expression of pleasure on his face as if touching the softness of the shoes had brought a mild religious experience. “Sir, you must let me perform maintenance for these shoes.” There was a bit of pleading his eyes as well. Vulerummer liked it when a man—especially one with such fine facial features—was looking up at him from such a position and with such a look. “Well, of course.” Vulerummer heard himself say. The shoeshine man put the cat down and asked his newly found patron to take a seat in his chair. “I keep it very clean and disinfected” he assured him. “I believe you do”, Vulerummer replied. The man removed a small vial from his collection of conditioners and held it up so that Ethan Vulerummer could see it in the light. “This is a special anti-aging tonic that will go deep through pores into the skin tissue and transform the moisture. It is very powerful and should only be applied by one with great expertise. I use it on my own skin when a blemish appears.” Vulerummer was taken aback by this. That this man would use the shoe conditioner on his own skin was one thing. But what really struck him was how the man talked about the shoe skins as having pores and tissue. The KuoomGotti shoe was publically known to be made from fine synthetic leather-like fibers. It appeared to him

that this shoeshine man might be one of very few people aware of what they were really made of—what made them so expensive and difficult to obtain. But this was something people would just never speak of even if they suspected it might be true. Meanwhile, Vulerummer’s security team was nearly pissing in their collective pants. They had backed away as the boss had ordered and were whispering different questions to each other through their phones. The answers were all the same, “I don’t know!” Up the street, coming out of the sports bar, Kerri Branghaue had her arm around her secretary’s neck. They were moving toward the V Corp building pretending to be drunk and ready to go back to her room. The security man stopped them, but not before she had seen Vulerummer sitting in a shoeshine man’s chair with a funny black cat standing on the arm of the chair peering at him as he worked on the shoes. “Ma’am, I’m afraid I can’t let you go this way”. Branghaue looked at him belligerently and asked him why not, “It’s a free country isn’t it?” The security man narrowed his eyes and toughened up his voice a notch. “You’re gonna have to go around, Miss”. She took a couple steps backwards and whipped out her phone. “Maybe we’ll just let Manhattan’s City’s Finest decide that, is that what you want?”. The guy now lowered his tone and said that, no, he didn’t want that. “Please”, he said. “Here’s the thing, I work for that guy over there and I’ll suffer big time if I can’t get you to go around. He’s a VIP.” “Oh yeah,” said Kerri Branghaue. She still sounded drunk but now more friendly. “Who is he?” She jerked her body to get another view of the scene down about thirty feet from them. “Oh” she said, “Look at the cat. He looks like a little lion. Ah….” The thought was crossing her mind of yelling out, “I love your cat’s haircut!” but the security man moved back in front of her to block the view. He pulled a hundred dollar bill from his pocket. “Please let me persuade you guys to cut across the road and walk down to the corner from that side. Please?” She looked at the money and ceremoniously snatched it out of the hand of the security man, then wobbled a bit on her feet for effect. “Sure”. She hung her arm around her secretary’s neck again and flashed the man a final, smug little smile. “Come on, baby, let’s go get ourselves a bottle of Champaign courtesy of the VIP.” They cut across the avenue into the fog. On the opposite side of the street and hidden from the view of Vulerummer’s security, she headed back toward the corner across from the sports bar. They sat down on a bench. She planned to wait there for fifteen minutes then slowly make her way back to the shoeshine stand so she could interview the guy with the cat. He was busy working on the KuoomGotti shoes. A dab of paste was applied to the stain. He had spread out some drops of the conditioner and was working them with a soft rag and tiny brush. Vulerummer yawned and was feeling drowsy now. He began to look forward to getting back for a few more hours of sleep. But he was curious about the attractive shoeshine man’s racial origins. The man responded to the question saying he was raised by people other then his biological parents after being passed around as a baby. The exact nature of his birth was never clear to him. “There was talk growing up that I started off in Ceylon” he said. “But my first memories are of Palestine and Paris , of Madrid and Bombay, and places I can’t even pronounce…I’m afraid I began as a gypsy child. I still seem to move around a lot.” The man had said this without looking up. It sounded to Vulerummer that he was embarrassed by the conditions of his birth and early life. The man began to work the stain on the tip of one of the shoes with the soft brush. But his treatment had no effect. “I can’t lift this stain”, he said with a trace of sadness. “It appears to be an ink of some kind.” He brightened up a bit. “When we meet again sir, I’ll try a more aggressive treatment.” Vulerummer smiled and said “sure” even though he didn’t expect he would ever see the man again. He didn’t require a personal shoe attendant. In fact, he had two other pairs of KuoomGotti shoes just like the pair he was wearing. If he ever became interested in this pair again he would have the little dot of ink masked with an appropriate paint. Ethan Vulerummer was an expert in masking things. He could mask a billion dollar bank transfer, a complete set of facts, or the whereabouts of a thousand missing people presumed dead. He stood up and gave the shoeshine man a hundred dollars and thanked him for his service. Then he returned to the steel door and up into his suite atop the V Corp building—the tallest building in the world. The sky was beginning to lightened up some but the immense bank of fog had now climbed further up toward his residence. Down below, still in the midst of that fog, Kerri Branghaue was ready to go back across the street. She felt Vulerummer and his security team would be gone. When they arrived, the shoeshine man, his cat, and his rolling shoeshine stand were all gone. She couldn’t believe it. They dashed across the street to see if he had moved over

there. He hadn’t. They moved toward the V Corp building but couldn’t see anything and she gave up. She sat down on another bench and her secretary joined her. “What is happening here?” Bob asked. He didn’t dare voice the question until this point. Kerri decided to fill him in. “That man getting his shoes shined was the same man that was sitting nearby us at the bar. Do you remember the guy with the hat on?” Bob remembered him. “Well, that was Ethan Vulerummer” she said plainly. Bob took a moment to absorb it all. “You mean we’ve been stalking…”. “Yeah”, she said, “the king of the Fascists”. This sent a shiver down his spine. After a long pause he asked her what they were to take away from all of this. That made her laugh. That was the question of the day.

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