Disaster Among the Heavens
Don E. Peavy, Sr.
Published in 2009 by YouWriteOn.com
Copyright Don E. Peavy, Sr.
The author asserts the moral right under the Copyright, Designs and Patents Act 1988 to be identified as the author of this work.
All Rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, stored in a retrieval system or transmitted, in any form or by any means without the prior consent of the author, nor otherwise circulated in any form of binding or cover other than that which it is published and without a similar condition being imposed on the subsequent purchaser.
Published by YouWriteOn.com
This work is dedicated to Dr. James N. Newcomer and Dr. Betsy Colquitt, professors of English at Texas Christian University, who taught me the craft of creative writing and gave me the hope that I might someday produce a manuscript worthy of being called a novel.
In reconstructing this tantalizing tale, I have followed the long and honoured tradition of historians who have had the difficult task of recalling speeches and events that no one else could recall of which Thucydides perhaps is the progenitor. The gospel writers are probably the most apt pupils. For instance, I have always been puzzled by the rendition of Jesus’ sayings in Mark 14:32-42. If Peter, James and John were asleep, then how do we know what Jesus said while praying in the Garden of Gethsemane? Did Jesus after his resurrection dictate his memoirs to the disciples, or did some angel record all these events for later posterity?
And what about the innocuous comment in Matthew 9:21 by the woman with the issue of blood who to herself says, “If only I may touch His garment, I shall be made well.” How is it possible that someone observing this woman could know what she said to herself? Well, we need not trouble ourselves with such wondering any longer for the academy has come up with an answer.
In their book, Luke and Scripture: The Function of Sacred Tradition in Luke-Acts, Craig A. Evans and James A. Sanders present an enlightening view of how scripture was composed in the grand tradition of history writing for that period, “Luke rewrote the story of Jesus much as Josephus rewrote Israel’s sacred history,” (p.4). Taking this view a step further, Marion L. Soards writes in The Speeches in Acts: Their Content, Context, and Concerns that “the speeches in Acts were Luke’s own compositions,” (p.8); and when the speech could not be elicited from listeners, Luke drafted a speech that would have been appropriate for the occasion (p.9).
Thus, when I relate matters which happened in private and conversations to which there were no apparent listeners, readers should not take these matters as attacks on my credibility – I am but following a well-charted path of the writing of history and is not the history of America as sacred as that of Israel?
Another matter of equal importance must be established here to aid the reader in perusing this historical narrative. I fought long and hard with my Editor for the right to present these characters without names. There was a time in our history when names were important. That changed, however, when the Bard asked via Juliet, “What's in a name?” And so, parents began to name their children without any concern or forethought as to the meaning of names, even going so far as to name a boy “Sue.” Thus, were I to use names in this historical presentation, I would mislead the reader into thinking there was some significance to that name and the reader might be led down a rabbit trail that did not lead to a carrot! Moreover, our names are not as important as what it is we do and this shift was occurring about the time the events recorded here were securing a place in historicity.
One final observation, writers of history must make choices in the presentation of materials of the past to audiences of the present. I have made choices here on two primary matters. First, literary critics might take exception to the lack of descriptions and scenic development in this work. I remind them that this is a historical narrative. I am a disciple of Edgar Allan Poe who taught that a good reading is one that can be consumed in one sitting. I have endeavoured to demonstrate that I am an apt pupil and have thus avoided describing the color of grass and giving the weights and measures of people unless they are germane to the narrative. After all, does anyone truly know how Jesus Christ looked?
Secondly, the Nixon tapes and the police chronicles reveal that politicians and those in law enforcement are not as articulate behind closed doors as they are in the light of cameras and the eyes of the public. Both politicians and law enforcement personnel equate power and prestige with the use of profanity and vulgarity. A similar mentality prevails among those who write of and about Blacks. A look at Broadway shows such as “Bubbling Brown Sugar,” “For Colored Girls Who Have Considered Suicide...,” any of the movies and recordings of Eddie Murphy or writings of bell hooks will illustrate with crystal clarity the truth of my observation.
I have made the choice to avoid where possible profanity and vulgarity, as well as dialects and regional nuances. I have also decided not to point out to the reader where I have edited the language of a speaker for to do so would be too distracting. Suffice it to say that the manuscripts reviewed for this historical drama were replete with profanity and vulgarity to such an extent that I had to bathe three times in the River Ganges, three times in the River Jordan, and once in the Hot Springs of Arkansas to cleanse myself. Hopefully, you will appreciate these choices and find that they have enhanced your understanding of a slice of the pie of American history without diminishing the flavour of its heroes.
Childhood is supposed to be a time of joy and thrills, not terror. And yet, the latter is what gripped me as I sat with my family in our living room around our sole AM radio to hear the threatening words. I was but six years of age at the time and should have been listening to The Little Rascals or Amos and Andy, not these words which so terrorized my family and me.
“We will bury your grandchildren!” declared Khrushchev in 1956 as he shook his fists at an unrepentant United States of America while he stood at the podium of the United Nations. It was a feat unmatched in the annals of international détente. That this old full-figured man could straddle a Russian Bear and look to America1 with clenched fists raised so high they almost touched the sky and not fall was worthy of an Olympian gold. Like E.F. Hutton, when Khrushchev spoke, the world listened, and the world listened as Khrushchev prophesied the victory of communism over democracy.
The feeling which seized me at the time has never been surpassed, though it was matched on the date of that terrible tragedy in Dallas, Texas when the glow of Camelot was extinguished by the assassination of John Fitzgerald Kennedy. Even the fear and anxiety that hold us, at times in a paralysing grip since September 11, cannot reach the height of terror I suffered on those two infamous days when I was brought to the edge of the abyss and was about to be tossed over into its fiery depths as if I too were a “Sinner in the hand of an angry God.”
For it was on that dark day in Dallas when the news came over the school public address system at my elementary school and forced me to tears. Mrs. Dixie Bell tried to console me as well as the other members of my class, but I was especially distraught so she took me to the nurse’s office.
A balding, short, stocky nurse in a much used and tattered uniform guided me to a small chair and instructed me to sit down. She placed rough and time-scarred hands on my shoulder and tried to mimic gentleness when she asked, “You want me to call your mom?”
“I don’t wanna go Africa,” I cried.
“Africa?” She asked as she sat next to me. “Who’s sending you to Africa?”
“Nixon …” It was difficult for me to say the name. “Nixon will now be President and he will send us colored people back to Africa.”
The nurse handed me a tissue and continued to question and console me. She was able to get me calmed down long enough for me to explain that I had heard during the Kennedy/Nixon election campaign that if Nixon won the election he was going to send all Negroes back to Africa. The nurse did her best to explain the presidential succession policy to me and eventually she was able to calm me down and to assure me that I would not be joining Tarzan in Africa. I hoped she was right. I, along with my family, hoped because we could do nothing more.
“We will bury your grandchildren,” he had said. Our grandparents trembled as they invested our inheritances in a wrestling match between this Russian bear and a handsome young knight who felt more comfortable in a vineyard than in the corridors of power. No wonder, then, that our grandparents looked on anxiously as their champion, locked in a bear hug, fought against all odds to be the first to come in from the cold.
Fortunately for us, Nikita S. Khrushchev, like so many others who have stood behind the podium of politics, was a better politician than prophet. History would make his words ring hollow. Like his peers, Khrushchev failed to count the costs of his promise. In the jargon of a bygone generation -- he had written a check which his grandchildren could not cash. And now, the barbarians were gathered at the gate of the citadel of the USSR demanding payment. Unable to pay, Khrushchev’s grandchildren, as if they were an American savings and loan of the eighties, declared bankruptcy and the words of their forebear clashed against the walls of absurdity and collapsed beneath the rubble of the once-iron curtain which had caged the bear in.
Ironically we, the grandchildren whose death notices had been premature, now buried Khrushchev and all those who had placed their bets on the Russian Bear. Oh happy day! It was neither a bad day nor a good day. It was a happy day. It was a day which will long live in fame -- a day on which an elder statesman had ascended from Death Valley Days to life atop the mountain of power and had completed the work first begun by America’s young knight. This statesman, like Joshua at Jericho, had looked at the walls of communism and shouted, “Mr. Premier, tear down these walls!” And lo, the walls came crumbling down!
It was the shout heard around the world and it still reverberated in the ears of people hungry for freedom as if it was yesterday when the Great Communicator uttered it. Visions still linger of the Edwin Hawkins Singers dancing atop the Iron Curtain singing “Oh Happy Day” as the gates of the Gulag Archipelago swung open and East met West and West hugged East and the USSR was no more and now all people struggled together as hunger and civil strife invaded the land. Oh what a day! They were happy but hungry! Their eyes glistened with the radiance of the sun yet their bodies trembled from the cold! The iron curtain was no more and now they could see clearly -- they had discovered their true enemy. It was neither America nor the West. It was their neighbours!
The people of the former USSR now discovered the other in what had once been their neighbour. Perhaps they had been willing to see beyond these others as they looked toward the wickedness of the West. But now that the West was no longer a threat, they turned their gaze upon their once neighbours and discovered the other – the one unlike them who posed a threat to their own identity.
As the bear emerged from the cold and danced a jig, our hunters came home and declared an end to the hunt -- they had found Red October. In response, our government declassified the history of the ages (except for the X Files which would remain closed for three additional decades and the opening of which would usher in the post-modern age in which the truth would be said to still be “out there”) and hordes of intellectuals descended upon our nation’s capital to peruse those secrets that were now out in the open. The words of Johnny Taylor sounded hauntingly in the background while Tom Brokaw announced this new policy of openness to an inquiring people wanting to know the details of the darkest recesses of the political mind.
Professors running on tenure tracks, reporters in search of a story, writers in search of a novel, producers in search of a movie; philosophers sauntered in from the dark woods; theologians made the Kirkegaardian leap into the post-modern age -- some leaped even further into a post-Christian age; and all rushed to Washington, D.C. -- the new Mecca of the intelligentsia. Yes, it was a great day for our nation’s capital but a sad day for Boston – the previous intellectual centre of the nation. But then, the time had come to bring Boston’s party to an end as the fat lady had not only sung, she and Don Meredith had stumbled off into the sunset.
Brighter shined the sun. Clouds danced across the sky casting shadows that fleeted across the land. Puffs of wind stirred stilled flags atop steel poles. Public schools gave up May Day activities in favour of junkets to our nation’s capital. Everybody who was somebody wanted to go to Washington, D.C. Even the stars which glistened so lovingly in the skies of the West traversed the blue ether and made their way to the new place where the action was. Hippies folded their tents, took a bath, and followed – metamorphosing to yuppies along the way. And I, your narrator, joined them.
Our arrival was a blessed day for many. Hotels sprung up overnight. Muggers, con artists, and prostitutes once forced to stand in welfare lines, now beamed with joy as they returned to full employment. Taxis, parked for decades, now tried to start their engines as the Department of Transportation declared record ozone days. Yes, it was a glorious occasion. And as we intellectuals and pretenders to intelligence marched hungrily but triumphantly into our nation’s capital, the Edwin Hawkins Singers danced in front of the Lincoln Memorial and sang the refrain, “Oh Happy Day!”
I said it was a glorious day and it was. As I move from the general to the specific, stay with me -- for we are about to go where no one has gone before. I am about to relate to you a tale of woe--a story of two worlds. Listen attentively. For never has there been such a tale of woe since death did claim Juliet and her Romeo.
Our story began almost the moment we marched into Washington, D.C. I say marched because one cannot just walk into such a place. With the cherry blossoms dotting the highways and byways, the monuments towering above the skyline, and the cast testimonies to architectural ingenuity, all of these coalesce to give one a sense of awe. As Lait and Mortimer described it, our nation’s capital is a “made-to-order architectural paradise.” Frommer adds that it is a “squishy lowland at the convergence of the Potomac and Anacostia Rivers [where one marches] in the footsteps of history.”
There is the Washington Monument that towers into the heavens with all the force of what feminists have called a phallic symbol of western patriarchy, protected by law and tradition from being topped by any other edifice. There are also the Jefferson and Lincoln tributes in stone and marble that reminds us of how insignificant most of our lives are. Thus it is that one does not walk into Washington, D.C. -- one marches -- either to the beat of the drums of the city or to one’s own heartbeat.
As I entered the political capitol of the world, I thought how blessed I was to have come this far in my life’s journey. Here was I, the fifth African-American child of twenty-two children born to a single set of proud and loving parents, bred in poverty in the segregated South, a high school dropout, a reformed criminal and a conservative Republican -- any one of which was reason enough to justify failure. Rather than suffering in failure, here I marched up the sublime streets of Washington, D.C. with not a care in the world, armed with a general equivalent diploma and three college degrees -- a proud member of the new intelligentsia. Even as I marched, I was aware that I too was a monument of the greatness of America. Little did I know, though I was about to learn, the price that had been paid for my construction.
I marched straight to that neo-classical building which approximates the majesty of the grand Parthenon – The National Archives Building. As I ascended the steps and marched through the Doric columns, I felt the same awe and aversion that gripped Dorothy and her companions as they crept up the hallway to the terrifying sounds of the Wizard of Oz. I was awed by the power and majesty of this place, yet terrified by a foreboding fear as if I were passing from the light to the dark—from life to death. Still, I marched on.
“Good morning, sir,” a heavily armed secretary greeted as I walked in. Her guarded beauty suggested that there was more to her than her weaponry. I envisioned an avionic moment.
“Good morning, Madame,” I replied, even though a clock on the far wall showed the time as 1400 hours.
The space into which I had entered was a dimly lit Rotunda. The walls were draped by scenes of the Founding Fathers. Guards were positioned on either side of the original four pages of the Constitution. There were other display vaults positioned around the room containing the foundational papers of the United States of America, including the Declaration of Independence.
“What are you looking for?” she asked. I wondered if she noticed my eyes undressing her.
I was impressed. I like a woman who gets right down to business. I find that quite stimulating. And so I began to see her with different eyes.
She was blond by choice. She touched off at five feet, eight inches and weighed 120 pounds. Her lips were seductively red and lined with a thin trace of black. Her breasts were well defined and firm. I checked my map to make sure I was not in Silicon Valley.
“Well?” She startled me back to the moment.
“Oh, sorry, I’m here to review Appendix A of the Kerner Commission Report. You might remember it was the work of the National Advisory Commission on Civil Disorders,” I said. I tried to impress her with my words. Being a graduate student, I had nothing else to commend myself to her.
“Oh, yeah? Funny, you don’t look like an intellectual,” she said. Her lips curved into a smile.
“Anyway, Appendix A will not be released for 50 years after the initial report. If you can count, you should know that is not until 2018.”
“But I was told all documents have been declassified and Appendix A is among those documents. Please, Missus, I have travelled a long ways. I have come all the way from the Nation of Texas.”
“This is not the Smithsonian! We do not make mistakes here. You are much too early to see Appendix A.”
I was confused. Were her words a compliment or an insult? Her lips said kiss me but her guns said die for me. Was this some feminine mystique that said disregard my words and read my mind? Was this the proverbial woman’s way of speaking: saying one thing when she means another? Yet, as an enlightened member of the new order, I could not entertain such patriarchal musings. And so I did what most confused people do -- I smiled and asked her to point me to the men’s room.
She led me to a long, dark corridor, where rows of restrooms lined each side of the aisle. On one side were rooms for men and on the other rooms for women. These were topped by signs which indicated who could enter. There was one for generals, another for enlisted persons, another for senators, another for foreign leaders, and so forth. At the very end was a small sign which was written in freshly painted orange, “Intellectuals.” I decided that the walk would be too tiring and so I allowed the secretary to give me over to one of the security guards who was even more armed than the secretary.
The security guard had an Uzi for a handgun, a bazooka strapped over his shoulder, and carried a combination rifle and grenade launcher in his hand. He was short for one so heavily armed and sported a three-day beard and moustache. His shoes were shined but run over at the heels and his uniform was starched and pressed. He directed me to a room where a small sign on the door said, “Dress Rehearsal.”
I opened the door and entered the room. I looked in the direction of the security guard just before closing the door and saw him take off his cap and run his fingers through gray, balding hair, replace his cap, then reclaim his place next to one of the display cases. He took no further notice of me and I closed the door and returned to the matter at hand.
Inside the room, I was asked to strip naked by a middle-aged man wearing a blue doctor's outfit. It was the kind worn in an operating room. The man had a white mask hanging loose around his neck. I protested. The room looked and smelled more like a football locker room than a place where government business is transacted. It was divided into cubicles by multi-coloured room dividers and a metal locker and wooden bench was in each cubicle. On the walls were copies of historical documents in picture frames. A mixture of pipe, cigar, and cigarette smoke added to the foul odour swirling around the room. The dreadful stench invading my nostrils smelt like a road-kill skunk.
“Excuse me, sir,” I responded to what I considered an outrageous demand. “Perhaps you misunderstood. I’m here to review the declassified materials from the cold war.”
“All intellectuals have to be searched,” he grumbled. He hardly moved his lips as he spoke. I wondered if he carried a taped message inside his flabby double chin which he rubbed with his right hand each time he spoke.
I was near a state of terror. I had come too far to turn back and yet I had my dignity. Would I allow my government to strip me of my dignity?
“What will it be? Are you going to the secret room or do you go back to Texas a loser?” chided the man. He held one hand on his left hip while he rubbed his chin with his right hand. Perhaps I had misread him, or maybe he could read the desperation on my face. I took a deep breath. And then, for the first time in my life, I committed an act of charity. I did something solely for the benefit of another -- I undressed in front of him. When I was finished, he left the room laughing.
Before I could gather my thoughts, a dentist, dressed in Army fatigues draped by a white dentist cloak, came in and forced me into a nearby chair. He was a middle-aged man with short brown hair and sideburns that were nicely trimmed right at the middle of his ear lobes. He was cleanly shaved and wore wire-rimmed glasses. I now understood the purpose for my having to strip -- I was to be searched. He checked my cavities for hidden devices and bombs. The dentist explained that when the last group of intellectuals had come to Washington just before the start of the cold war, a battleship had come up missing.
Then a barber, with short-cropped and spiked blond hair and dressed in a black leather pants outfit, entered. She ran her fingers through my hair and gave me a shave and an edge up in the process. She was thin and about five-feet and four inches and yet she had certain firmness to her touch and a forced competence in her manners. She disappeared almost as quickly as she had arrived.
A voice came over a speaker in the corner that I had not seen previously and told me to get dressed and report to the desk in the outer office. The voice sounded like that firm, mechanical voice from one of the episodes of The Outer Limits. With great trepidation and equal determination, I did as ordered and reported to where the armed secretary sat.
“Well, sir, I’m pleased to say that you are cleared. However, the document you seek has not been released. The Kerner Commission Report is on file in our Archives. But it does not have the Appendix A attached to it. If you still want to see the Report, you may proceed through the door that says Public Vaults.”
Her calm but authoritative voice quickened my anxiety. I was desperate to read the Appendix A to the Kerner Commission Report. There were rumours circulating in the African-American community that the Appendix contained detailed information of the Black Revolution which had never before been released to the public. The existence of this report would prove that America had come to the brink of another civil war and the people had known nothing about it. Further, the report would prove what so many radical Blacks had been saying – the “Great Society” programs of President Johnson had been forced from him by the Black Revolution and had not been passed as a result of the Civil Rights Movement as the public had been led to believe. Surely I had not come so close only to be denied the prize. Must I too have to confront the reality that the Wizard is nothing more than an old man with pipes and horns?
Two corridors emerged before my eyes and I took “the one less travelled by.” As I entered the corridor to the right, I noticed that I was moving but my legs were still -- my feet were dug into the brick floor. I looked around for a spike to grab a hold of and saw none. Then, as swiftly as it had started, the movement stopped and I found myself standing before a door on which was engraved Public Vaults.
The door opened and I entered into what must have been Grand Central Station. It was a scene which only words can describe. People were all over the place. Books and files were scattered everywhere. There were television cameras, news reporters, and professors
Celebrities were there. World leaders were there. Yes, even the infamous Fidel Castro was there thumbing through a file which had a stack of missiles on the front of it. Was this what I had stripped down for? Had I surrendered my dignity for this Bedlam?
Perhaps I was in the wrong room. I turned to the door and was about to leave when a tender hand lighted on my shoulder. I turned to behold the face of a calm, beautiful young woman who looked as if she had just stepped off the cover of Essence Magazine. Her blond hair draped her shoulders and curled up in a gesture which beckoned me to come forward. Her eyes were brown and sparkled. Her lips were spiced with blue and were more the size of a child than a woman. Her make-up was flawless and her perfume put me in a trance to such an extent that I would have followed her anywhere. I was about to declare her an angel when she spoke and turned my dream into a nightmare.
For it was only when she spoke that I realized who she was. It was a Rupaul look-alike!
Sheepishly and embarrassed, I remained silent as I followed her. She led me through the maze to another room, quieter and much darker. She said nothing. She just glided across the floor as if she floated on air.
“There, there is what you seek,” she said. She pointed to a large crate which upon her words exploded open and revealed a limestone container in the corner.
Even amidst the turbulence of this room, even as files and papers and people floated around the room and the room looked like a scene from Kafka’s The Castle, I was yet hopeful that victory would be mine.
I walked over to the large crate. I turned to ask her if I could get some help moving it into the light but the Ru Paul look-a-like was gone. In vain, I tried to move this dusty oblong box but it wouldn’t bulge. Then, remembering my days as a Boy Scout, I flicked my Bic as I got down on my knees beside the box. I moved the flickering light over the top to read its inscription. Oh, what a chill rushed through my body as the light struck the word scribbled in red. What terror took hold of me!
Tsunami. What pain, what grief, what eternal misery had carved that word into the top of this box? What pain and suffering had overwhelmed its author? And now, as I beheld that word, each letter signified a private hell of suffering. I longed to know what tale of woe had brought some person to scribble those infernal words. I felt uncomfortable. A deep, penetrating fear overtook me. And yet, I felt drawn to open the box. There I was, dangling over the abyss of hell and I longed to be let loose -- to explore this uncharted territory. Neither darkness nor depth deterred me. Like mighty Odysseus, but without his cunning and the protection of the gods, I braved the darkness that I might be able to relate to you that which has helped to shape the place we call the United States of America today. And thus, finding a fortuitous tool box nearby, I forced open the sarcophagus.
Oh, that I had not -- that I had left it closed. For the tale I am about to relate to you is one of horror and shame and national disgrace. It is also one of national repentance and one bright moment in our nation’s history when she glistened with the hope of our founders.
What pain did I find within the walls of that box! It was pain that gripped me even as I pulled away at the top and took hold of the contents. Sweat poured from my forehead. My blood raced through my veins. My heart throbbed. I found it difficult to breathe. And yet, for your sake, I suffered all these things and more. For I was determined to bear witness to this darkness -- that perhaps others might be spared the pain.
With all the energy I could summon, I fought back the icy fingers which took hold of me. I closed my eyes and refused to see the ghosts that emerged from the box. And when I had felt the last faint being escape, I opened my eyes and started reading.
Oh, my reader -- pray that you have only to read this book and not the pages of that box. So sit back and listen to this tale of woe. Gather up a few beers -- no, a few cases. Call in your children, your friends and whoever else will come. For there is strength in numbers and you will need all the strength you can muster and more. Beneath the scrawled letters, beneath the cover of that box lay a story that had been buried in the recesses of our government’s secret chambers until the opening of the iron curtain. I have seen. Oh, that I had not. But listen, and know that what I say is true.
While I flipped through the blood-inked pages of the box, I became aware that what I was reading was the Appendix A that the secretary had said was not yet released and would not be released until 2018. Again, our government had failed to see what was right before it.
What the government’s agent had told me was not here was in fact here -- it was a highly classified report which had been penned by an undisclosed source under the pseudonym of Carpal Tunnel. Despite the anonymity of its author, the report was written with the same degree of clarity and detail as the grand sleuth of historical docudrama, James A. Michener.
I knew then that what I was about to read would be the truth, the whole truth, and nothing but the truth. Even before I had read a single word of the report, I made the decision to adopt the report as my thesis. For though I had never thought about it, I was quite interested in learning the true genius behind Lyndon Baines Johnson’s Great Society Programs -- the real architect who had constructed this brave new and exciting America.
I was a product of that Society -- having graduated from Job Corps with a general equivalency diploma and a certificate in general office after having dropped out of high school and turned to the streets. Job Corps had given me a skill, my first diploma and a fire of hope that burned deep within me and that would forever keep me pressing forward no matter what obstacles I faced.
No wonder then that I felt as if the heavens had parted and a divine light had burst upon me. For if this Son of the South, this keeper of the flame of hope that the South would rise again; if this Southern gentleman with the Western hat could cast off his hooded cloak and burn it on the bonfire of the vanities, then his doing so was the best evidence that the Dream was being realized and the Great Sin had been forgiven and that Great Crevice in the soul of the American land had been bridged -- that finally the Veil had been lifted.
As these thoughts cascaded through my mind, I became aware of a great disturbance in the outer room. Anxiety took hold of me. I feared that the trumpet had sounded and the open policy closed before I could discern answers to the questions that haunted me like the ghosts of Ebenezer Scrooge. Great relief came upon my seeing Joan Baez leading a parade of Members of Congress into the room singing “The Night They Drove Old Dixie Down.” Was this a happy day?
Whether it was a Happy Day
This I could not say.
For happy is as happy does
And I had yet to see what was!
After reading the contents of the box, I replaced the cover and suddenly I was engulfed in a blinding light which emanated from the ceiling as there were no windows in the room. I covered my eyes to protect them when I felt a gentle touch removing my hands from my eyes. It was the Prophet Joseph Smith and his Eight Witnesses who stood around the box. They glared at me approvingly and then the Prophet said, “This is true. Publish it that others may come into the light. Do not fear the critics. Remember, they persecuted me before you and if they persecuted one of their own, imagine what they will do to you!” The Witnesses gave out a deep, Gregorian chant of approval. Though gripped by fear, this chorus of apparitions gave me strength for the task ahead.
Having concluded their testimony, they lifted up toward the ceiling as did the box which was in the midst of them though none of them touched it. Their ascent was slow, methodical, and without the noise, flames and movement that accompanied the Great Spirit as it escaped the doomed Temple and made its way to the distant mountain top. There were no trumpets flaring to herald their departure. No great light burst into the room to usher them to their celestial abode. I gazed toward them until they and the sarcophagus disappeared.
“Young man, why stand you here gazing at the ceiling? Don’t you know that all things will come as they go and go as they come? You must get to the task at hand while it is at hand.”
I turned to face an old man whom I recognized from my Sunday school class as Josephus, the great historian. He was thin, almost frail, for one who had been raised in the household of a Roman Emperor. He still sported his long beard which fell almost to his waist. He wore the garb of a high priest, having been elevated in the afterlife from the mere priestly status he shared during his period of rebellion. His eyes radiated the colour of onyx which contrasted the gold that surrounded the base of his mitre. When he spoke, his voice was like that of many waters. He moved with all the grace of Daniel Dunglas Home, who fascinated members of the aristocracy by levitating in broad daylight.
These appearances and disappearances were playing havoc with my mind. All that I had undergone since my arrival in the Granite City had me confused and bewildered and was too incredible for me to accept calmly. I tried to speak but words failed me. Josephus handed me a golden pen with the words Testimonium Flavianum engraved upon it. As I took hold of the pen, he faded away whispering the word, “Write!”
I was alone once again. I looked at the pen and at each of my hands. The pen vibrated and sent tremors of electricity through my hands. Then I found a stack of legal pads nearby and started to write down the things I had seen, heard, read, and felt; making copious notes while interviewing thousands of persons, both living and dead. Hear then this story of woe. Listen carefully. For those who hear these words and believe will be spared the horror of the eternal darkness. Those who don’t, well, even now the fingers of the abyss are creeping upon you. So listen, and in listening believe. For in believing you will be spared the disaster among the heavens.
. . .
It was a time of great anxiety for the people of the United States on a hot Sunday morning in July 1966. They sat mesmerized before television screens while live reports from Chicago projected images of a nation suffering from a racial divide which was on the brink of a cataclysmic eruption as evidenced by the violence and destruction of the race riots in Chicago. Details of those riots are well documented in the body of the Kerner Report and are dramatized eloquently in the marvellous work, “The Spook Who Sat By the Door.” Our story begins where those two accounts end as recounted in the Appendix A to the Kerner Report which has not been officially released by the government and now may never be released so as to imbue government officials with deniability.
The riots could not have come at a worse time for a nation already suffering from nightly broadcasts of violence in the South where the Civil Rights Movement was encountering the brutality of a “peculiar institution” that refused to die and continued to reincarnate in ever more horrific forms of oppression.
Ironically, America could sleep at nights with the violence in the South because it could lie to itself that the South was an aberration of life in America – that the veil had been lifted in the North and elsewhere.
For most Americans, their greatest threat came from communism and the Soviet Union was the focal point of their anger and concern. Marvin Gaye and Curtis Mayfield had not yet made the transition from R&B stars to prophets of soul and thus there was hardly anyone outside the Civil Rights movement who could or at least who did call Americans to confront domestic issues of racial inequality and how these boiling issues threatened to explode the melting pot of American culture and civilization. Thus it was that Americans were able to sleep at night – snuggled in their pillows of self deception. That was until the events in Chicago and their aftermath which form the basis of this history and the genesis of the Kerner Commission Report and the never-before-published Appendix A.
Chicago had exploded the quiet dreams of comfort and now Americans had no retreat. Their sleep had been disturbed. They had been awakened by the explosions and gunshots in the streets of Chicago and could no longer bury their heads in their pillows. It is no wonder that Valium would make its appearance during these years and by the time of the Kerner Commission Report, would be the best selling drug in the United States.
Americans had recoiled in horror at the sight of monks setting themselves aflame in Saigon in protest of the Vietnam War and also when they had witnessed Negroes beaten by police and attacked by water hoses and dogs in the South. They had watched these things with anguish but still slept at night because they could distance themselves from those faraway places. Chicago had changed all of that.
Not far from the birthplace of Abraham Lincoln, the emancipator of America’s schizophrenia inflicted by its slavery problem, the heart of the Midwest and the gateway to the North, Chicago had prided itself on being a modern metropolis where people lived in racial harmony even though they continued to suffer economic divisions. Yet, as the Kerner Commission found, Chicago, like America in general, was self-deluded. The race riots of 1966’s hot and humid summer was not only Chicago’s wake up call, it acted as a jolt to the mind of a sleeping giant and stirred the hearts of a people who had waxed cold following the carnage of two world wars and two international conflicts in Korea and now Vietnam. Now, Chicago found itself repeating its history as new riots broke out in the summer of 1968 spurred by what the Kerner Commission labelled as "'the so-called 'Black Revolution.'”
In a sense though, Chicago’s self-deception was only natural given that of the country at large. This self-deception is always present right before disaster strikes as history “guffaws in a rose bush.” Before the American Revolution, the nascent nation blamed its race problems on Royalists who were trying to undermine the struggling young colonies. After the American Revolution the country’s race problems were blamed on the North which allegedly was jealous of the genteel society established and enjoyed by the South. After the Civil War, America blamed its race problems on Carpetbaggers and after World War II, communists were to blame. Always and persistently, America found others to blame for a problem it could never face nor resolve. And so the prophetic words of W.E.B. DuBois continued to indict America – its race problem would be America’s greatest problem of the 20th Century and beyond.
And so it was that the race riots in Chicago had another dubious distinction that pricked the hearts and minds of not only the American people but their leaders in the nation’s capital. The precipitator of those riots had been the understudy of head of the Central Intelligence Agency (CIA): Robert Clanger Landest, III. Consequently, Landest was particularly distressed by the events in Chicago. He had flown there to help quell the riots and to “quiet once and for all” his Former Assistant. In Landest’s mind, he had succeeded on both accounts.
That was why he stared listlessly at the dewdrops falling from the cherry blossoms as his limousine snaked its way through the streets of Washington, D.C. en route to the White House. He rubbed his fingers through his salt and pepper hair which he kept neatly cropped and trimmed. He refused to allow himself the luxury of the emerging cultural trend of sideburns and moustache. His six-foot, two inches fit comfortably in the back seat of the stretched Cadillac. His stare shifted from the cherry blossoms to a film crew from National Geographic which was filming each fall of dew with time lapse-photography for its next special presentation.
Director Landest sat alone in the back seat of the vehicle whose lone front occupant was his Chauffeur. A glass partition between driver and passenger discouraged communication and so they drove and rode in silence -- each consumed by his own thoughts as morning peeked over the distant horizon, checking to make sure it was safe to emerge.
Charles Allen Brown, the chauffeur, inwardly cursed his low standing in the CIA that had resulted in his being “temporarily detailed” as the Director’s chauffeur. He guided the limo effortlessly through the streets of Washington, D.C. which had not yet come alive with tourists and politicians. This lack of traffic afforded him time to reflect which he took full advantage of. He thought about his past life as a detective on the City of Houston Police Department and how he had gone to law school at nights and on weekends to obtain his law degree and then, against the advice and counsel of his parents and friends, had joined the CIA in hopes of becoming the next Matt Helm. He cringed at the thought of his parents and friends chiding him with “I told you so’s.” His hopes had been dashed by this so-called “Black revolution” which had been sparked by a former CIA employee and which had resulted in all of its Black employees being placed on unpaid administrative leave -- all six of them, three of whom were chauffeurs.
His present life was not what he intended to achieve when he left Houston for Washington, D.C. and then Virginia – proving yet again the ever vast ocean between what humans intend and what they actualize. Perhaps it is in this instance that humans are most like their gods – they intend one thing but achieve another. No doubt the god of Moses intended to create a universe of order and beauty inhabited by life forms of sundry manifestations that all worked together in harmony to sustain and enlarge the glory of creation. Noble as those intentions must have been, even a blind child can see that the results do not match the plans. Always and forever is there a wide gap between the ideal and the real.
The gods are forced to admit that the material has a will of its own. Humans may be actors on the stage of life but they are forever improvising and straying from the script. Life forms subsist by killing and eating one another; universes bang into and out of existence all the time as stars go nova and planets disintegrate into asteroid fields. If there is an order to be found anywhere, it is in the regularity of the constant disorder of all existence.
All of this is best summarized in the wisdom of my grandmother who oft-times would say, “The road to hell is paved with well meaning people.” No doubt the gods mean well and envision us enjoying heaven, but it is hell that they have given us.
And hell is what Brown considered his present place of habitation. He lived two lives: the life he dreamed about and wrote about in his letters to his family and friends in Houston, and the life he suffered through each day. Consequently, he fought to hide the repulsion he felt toward his passenger as he took notice of him via the rear view mirror.
“Care for any coffee, sir?” The Chauffeur asked the director After letting down the glass window between him and the back seat. He looked through the rear-view mirror at the Director.
“No,” Landest answered in a sharp monotone. He did not turn away from gazing out of the window.
Landest paid no attention to Brown. Instead, he wondered what the President could possibly want with him so early in the morning. He desired to go straight to his Watergate apartment after spending the weekend with a sick wife at home in Williamsburg where he had received news that his former assistant had been discovered and killed in Chicago. …
“Would you like for me to stop along the way and get a newspaper?” The Chauffeur either did not understand the Director’s previous response or he was purposefully agitating him.
“Hell, no! I want to be left the hell alone!” boomed the Director.
The Chauffeur got the message this time for he hit the button with his fist and left it there until the window was all the way up. He said something under his breath, let his side window down and spit a mouthful of foaming substance out, let the window back up, then stared straight ahead as he continued on his journey in silence.
As for The Director, he returned to his thoughts. Images of his apartment and the woman he hoped to find there crystallized in his mind – easing for a brief moment the tension which had overcome him. July had been a very difficult month for him, especially since the President held him personally responsible for the riots in Chicago caused by his former employee and it was the cool Martinis and the feet rubs and the sweet passion of His Woman which had sustained him, especially during those times when he seriously contemplated leaving The Company, as the CIA is often referred to. And now, rather than being in her arms, he was on his way to meet with the one man other than his former employee whom he truly and completely hated.
Those thoughts and more occupied the minds of driver and passenger as the limousine turned into the long driveway of the White House and slowly approached the gate through which dignitaries and high-ranking officials enter and stop before two burly Marines. Still looking out of the window, Landest noticed several school children standing outside the gate being led in singing by a choirmaster. He pressed the button which let the window down enough for him to hear.
“Good morning to you! Good morning to you! We’re all in our places with sunshiny faces; oh this is the way, to start a new day!”
The Director was unimpressed. He forced the window back up and glanced at his watch. It was 6:20 a.m. Directing his attention straight ahead, he watched the car pull to the entry door and come to a stop. He remained motionless as did The Chauffeur. Finally, the Chauffeur looked at The Director through the rear-view mirror and the Director motioned his head towards the door. It took a few minutes but the translation registered in the Chauffeur’s mind and he lighted from the car and moved quickly to the Director’s door and opened it. This allowed Landest to rush into the White House without looking at the Chauffeur. Obviously, the act of Brown was one of duty and not courtesy deserving of thanks.
Once inside the White House, the Director was led to the Map Room by two Secret Service Agents who whispered to each other and said, “Sh-hhh-hhhh” to the Director whenever he tried to say something. The Agents were dressed alike: white suits with black western ties and matching handkerchiefs. They both wore black alligator cowboy boots. One was about six-foot-two and the other was five-ten. They wore crew cut hairstyles. Their eyes were hidden behind black shades in the shape of the State of Texas.
History and fame adorned the Map Room which was made famous by President Franklin D. Roosevelt who used it as a situation room during World War II. Hanging on the east wall is a rare 1755 French version of a map charted by colonial surveyors Joshua Fry and Peter Jefferson (the father of Thomas Jefferson). It is the presence of this map which gives the room its name. On the west wall and above the sandstone mantle of the fireplace beside which Roosevelt delivered his first series of “fireplace chats” hangs “the last situation map prepared in this room” for Roosevelt.
“Just like him – a fanatic for overkill,” Landest thought to himself. Confusion continued to invade his mind as he struggled to figure out why he had been summoned to the White House so early on a Sunday morning. Images of his apartment and woman dissipated.
“The President commands you to read that report. He will join you shortly” the shorter of the two Agents thundered as he pointed to a report resting on the seat of a rose brocade Queen Anne chair in front of the fireplace.
“Some coffee, please,” the Director asked as he walked over to the chair, picked up the report and sat down.
“Sure,” said the taller Agent. He covered his face with his jacket and mumbled something which The Director could not make out. Within minutes, the Secretary of Agriculture arrived dressed in a tuxedo with all the trimmings and pushing a Victorian service cart on which coffee and doughnuts were displayed. He parked the cart between the fireplace and the chair in which the Director sat then left as quickly as he had arrived, followed by the Secret Service Agents.
Finally alone, the Director thought about His Woman. He looked for a telephone but there was not one in the room -- there were three -- all sitting atop the sandstone mantel to which he moved and picked up the one in the middle and dialled his apartment. There was an answer and his heart beat with joy.
“I’m sorry; this is a telephone company recording. The number you have reached is not in service. Please be sure you are calling the right number and try your call again.”
Frowning as he hung up the telephone, Landest again dialled his number. This time there was no answer. Why do women always do what you tell them to when you don’t want them to?, he asked himself. Ringing without end caused him to remember his instructions to His Woman not to answer his telephone for fear that his wife, or worst yet the President, might call.
Disappointed, he dropped the receiver to its cradle and went back to reclaim his seat where, after pouring himself a cup of coffee, he took the report out of its leather jacket and read the cover on which was printed, “Notes on a Great Society.”
The Director composed himself, took a long gulp from the mug of coffee and commenced the task of reading the report.
At several sentences he stopped in midstream and poured another cup of coffee or took a long gulp. The report made no sense to him. It appeared to be a manifesto from his Former Assistant in which he set forth what he thought America ought to do to solve its “race problem.” “The problem of the twentieth century is the race problem,” it opened.
Why am I reading this? That bastard is dead. To hell with this shit. The Director flipped through the remaining pages of the report, got up from his chair and returned to the telephones, where he again selected the middle one and this time dialled the room of His Woman instead of his apartment.
His heart leapt with joy at the sound of His Woman’s voice.
“Hi, honey,” he shouted into the receiver. Sheepishly, he surveyed the room to insure that he was still alone in the room.
“Sorry, I ain’t here. Wait for the little beep and do your thang.”
His face turned sanguine as the Director realized the voice was a recording.
“I’m going to kill that woman!” exclaimed the Director out loud. This time he did not care if anyone heard him. He felt as if he had just discovered he was the victim of a confidence game. Disappointed, he listened to the remainder of the message then left his own.
“Hi, honey. I am at the White House. Hope to see you soon. Bye now.” He let the receiver fall gently to its cradle as he returned to his seat and resumed scanning the report.
A loud trumpet blast startled him. Quickly, he closed the report and shoved it into its leather jacket and pressed the seal closed. Two Marines entered and stood each to one side of the door through which three generals and an admiral, two colonels, three men in suits, and two women with stenography machines entered followed by a small, stocky fellow who in a thunderous voice declared, “Ladies and gentlemen, The President of the United States!”
Landest jumped to his feet as The President entered. Once The President was inside the room, the two Marines and the small, stocky fellow retreated beyond the door.
“Good morning, Mr. President,” greeted The Director. The President walked past him and sat down in the mahogany easy chair with a square, upholstered back which was positioned in front of the fireplace.
Landest reclaimed his seat. There were not enough seats for everyone so the three Generals, the Admiral and the two Colonels took what seats remained and moved them in a semi-circle around The President, which also faced the desk at which the Director sat since the desk was several feet away from but directly in front of the fireplace. The two women Stenographers had no seat so one sat on the lap of the Army General and the other sat on the lap of the Marine General. The Navy Admiral looked perturbed and so one of the men in suits sat in his lap and another sat in the lap of the Air Force General.
With hurried resolve, The President waited for everyone to settle down. He turned slightly so that he was facing the Director And said, “Mr. Director, we have a problem! Did you enjoy your reading?”
Landest did not answer immediately. Looking beyond The President, he focused his attention on the fireplace. He envisioned a raging fire there that reached out and engulfed The President and consumed him. For only then would this meeting have purpose for him. However, as so often happens with dreams, the fire never came, he then moved his attention past The President to each of the others in the room.
“Mr. Director, I am waiting,” reminded The President. He sat back in the chair and looked intently at Landest as if he were trying to peer into the Director’s soul.
The Director was about to address The President when a tall, thin man with silver hair and sporting a blue pin-striped double breasted suit with white shirt and a blue and white striped tie rushed into the room and approached The President. Landest recognized him as the Chief of Staff who handed a file folder to The President. The President flipped through the pages, scanning each one. This allowed the Director time to continue his survey of the room.
There was the General of the Army, the General of the Air Force, and the General of the Marines in full battle gear for their respective service. Then there was a Colonel from Kentucky dressed in a three-piece white suit that had long white hair and a white moustache and beard and carried a walking stick with the head of a chicken on it and another Colonel from the Army who was also dressed in full battle gear.
“Has the Director seen this?” asked of The President to the Chief of Staff as he finished reviewing the contents of the folder.
“No, sir, I don’t think so,” answered the Chief of Staff.
“Very well, I will fill him in,” responded The President.
Ignoring the others in the room, the Chief of Staff leaned over and whispered something into The President’s ear, shifting his posture by leaning forward to meet the Chief of Staff. The President’s mouth formed a grimace as he nodded his head in the affirmative. Looking pleased, the Chief of Staff then turned and left the room. The Director returned to his survey of those in the room.
His eyes fell upon The Senator whose progressive policies had brought the first group of Negroes to the CIA and his Assistant -- these were the two men in suits who were now sitting down. And the third man who was frail and about the age of Moses, and who was dressed in a double-breasted brown suit with wide lapels, stood to the left of the fireplace and leaned against the mantle. There was also the Admiral of the Navy in full evening dress and finally, the two Stenographers who were dressed in, well, dresses. The Stenographer sitting in the lap of the Marine General was painting her nails as she too waited for The Director’s answer. The other Stenographer was putting on make-up. Since the remaining description of these individuals will not add anything of substance to our story, The Director did not take further notice of them. Instead, he turned his gaze to The President and surveyed this six-foot-three Texan from hat to sole.
He peered into the deep spastic eyes of The President. They receded far back into his eye sockets as though they sought refuge from a blazing truth. His face looked more like misused and abused land that lay dried and cracked and wind-whipped than human skin. His jaw bone protruded forward, beneath which a patch of skin hung like the dried breasts of a cow the essence of which evaporated into the noonday sun. He had a big puffy nose, like W.C. Fields, the nostrils of which had been stained by the many cigarettes The President smoked each day.
His salt and pepper hair was well groomed – he combed it to the back revealing a retreating hairline.
The President wore a gray flannel suit from Brooks Brothers over a white dress shirt accentuated with a blue-and-white striped tie. He sported a wide leather belt which was fastened by a large silver buckle in the shape of the State of Texas. All of this was supported by a pair of Justin armadillo boots which had been dyed black. The President looked much older than someone a little over a month shy of his fifty-eighth birthday and more like the leader of the most powerful country in the world who was having the worst year of his political life. He had lost a lot of weight since being in the White House and no longer looked like the fit and robust rancher which made him so attractive in his early years. His skin was whiter than one would expect of a rancher and his thin frame made his clothes seem almost too big for him.
The Director cleared his throat to signal he was about to answer. “I’m afraid, Mr. President, I don’t understand. My Former Assistant is dead. What more is there to do?”
“Dead? That traitor has taken over NORAD!2 You Northerners continue to amaze me how you underestimate those people.” The President took a package of cigarettes from his inside coat pocket and extracted one. The Army Colonel flicked his Bic to light it.
“But Mr. President, the Chicago Police verified that he was killed,” pleaded Landest as he shifted in his chair. He diverted his attention from The President momentarily then returned to face him.
“There has been a mistake,” Landest continued. He reached for a cup of coffee and drank it in one long gulp. He looked sheepishly as he placed the empty cup back on the cart.
“Well, son, where’s the body?” interjected the Kentucky Colonel. “You can’t say a nigga’s dead till you’ve seen the body.”
“The last I heard a local doctor took the body in for an autopsy. I know he’s dead!” answered the Director as his confidence began to wane.
“You don’t know your ass from a hole in the ground!” charged The President, who flicked his cigarette into the fireplace and took out a fresh one that was lit by The Senator’s Aide.
“Do ya have an autopsy report?” The Kentucky Colonel stroked his beard as he awaited Landest’s answer.
“No sir, I don’t, but I don’t buy this Superfly business. The Assistant is dead,” whispered The Director. His face was now flushed and it was not clear whether it was from anger or embarrassment or both.
“Hot diggity dog! I knew it!” The Kentucky Colonel said with such force he threw the young man off his lap and both man and cane crashed to the floor.
The President stood up and walked over to the fireplace. He looked into it as he leaned against the mantle. He did not look up as he said, “All I can tell you is that he has taken over NORAD and we received that package yesterday along with a note. I have asked Mr. Cosmologist with the National Science Institute to join us and to explain the threat we are facing. Mr. Cosmologist, please proceed.” The President returned to his seat as one of the men in suits opened his briefcase and extracted a folder and a flat object. This was Mr. Cosmologist.
He was a short, thinly built man of sixty-two who wore a gray flannel suit with blue shirt and a blue tie with pint polka dots. His wardrobe was completed by a pair of brown Stacy Adams wing tip shoes which were in desperate need of a shine and a new set of heels. He had a full head of hair which was unkempt and fully gray. He sported a full beard, moustache and sideburns, which were not trimmed and which offered no lines of demarcation.
Mr. Cosmologist walked over to stand between one end of the semi-circle and where the Director sat and said, “Thank you, Mr. President.”
He hit the flat object against his leg and it opened up into an easel on which he spread out a map of the universe which he extracted from the folder. He then reached inside his coat pocket and took out a pen and tapped one end of it. The other end grew and grew until it became a pointer.
“This, ladies and gentlemen, is Earth,” he said as he hit his pointer against the map. Mr. Cosmologist was neither intimidated nor humbled by the power and prestige of his audience. He presented his “lecture” as if he were in his regular class room.
He continued, “And this is the moon. Now this line I am about to draw is very important so keep your eyes on it.”
After drawing a line a few inches in front of the moon he continued, “Within a certain distance of a planet, tidal forces are so intense that they exceed the gravitational strength that keeps a satellite from disintegrating.”
“Excuse me, Mr. Cosmologist,” interrupted the Admiral. “You’re not going to do a Carl Sagan on us, are you?”
The Cosmologist looked over his wire rimmed eyeglasses at the Admiral and answered, “Sir, I would be careful about casting aspersions on Mr. Sagan. He is truly a prophet of the heavens. As early as Genesis 1:14 we are told to watch the heavens for signs. Our lives are determined by the alignment of the planets and stars and we would do well to study them with care and reverence.”
“Let’s not go down that road. Please continue, Mr. Cosmologist,” instructed The President. The Admiral gave no sign of disgust at being silenced by The President.
Mr. Cosmologist picked something out of his beard, looked at it momentarily, flung it to the floor, and continued as if he had never been interrupted. “This boundary, called the Roche limit, extends about two point five times the radius of a planet from its centre. Keep in mind what I said to the Admiral about all the planets and stars and us being connected. Not a single star can go nova without it having far-reaching effects on the other stars and planets.
“Consequently, if for some reason a planet was to move into its Roche limit, it would disintegrate. And if it did not disintegrate, at least in terms of the moon, it would cause devastation on the earth to a degree never seen before. In other words, ladies and gentlemen, we are talking nothing less than a catastrophic Tsunami!”
The mention of the word caused befuddled confusion and fear among all present. The President buried his face in his hands, the two Stenographers fainted, and the military men huddled in a disoriented and noisy fashion that would have gotten them ejected from even a minor league game.
The Colonels remained stone-faced and the Admiral ran out of the room along with the Senator and his Aide. They soon returned with various staff members who served everyone a snack, provided hot towels with which to freshen up and added more chairs to the room so that everyone was able to have an individual seat -- much to the chagrin of the Army and Marine Corps Generals.
“Excuse me, sir, I’m a bit confused. What does this space business have to do with the so-called Manifesto and NORAD?” asked the Army General.
The Cosmologist took another paper from the folder, ran his fingers through his hair, and continued, “I’m getting to that. As you all know, NORAD has been taken over by Director Landest’s Former Assistant and others not yet identified. NORAD is the only American installation that is equipped to launch IGBMs and …”
“Pardon me, sir, but what are IGBMs?” asked the Senator’s Aide, a twenty-four year-old recent graduate of William and Mary. He wore a blue suit with white shirt and a red and white striped tie. His hair was neatly trimmed and he sported neither moustache, beard, nor sideburns.
“Oh, sorry, intergalactic ballistic missiles. These are missiles which are capable of being launched from NORAD and travelling into outer space to strike targets as far as, well, as far as it will go! We don’t know yet exactly how far into space these missiles will go. We have launched one to the moon and hit a target there within a mile radius. These missiles were developed in case any of the many asteroids which cruise through space take a notion to visit us -- I mean, we don’t want an Armageddon now, do we?
“Continuing on, what the Director’s assistant threatens to do is to launch all the missiles toward the moon and to hit it here, thus knocking it into and beyond its Roche limit.” The Cosmologist hit the map at the back of the moon with the pointer.
“What will be the result of such a strike?” asked The President as he shifted in his chair. He crossed, then uncrossed, then crossed, then uncrossed his legs.
“The result, Mr. President, is Tsunami!”
Again the room exploded in shudders and moans and much tossing and turning. Thunder boomed in the distance and lightning flashed across the sky. A flock of pigeons flew off the roof of the White House and crashed into the lush grass of the yard and disappeared.
“What exactly is a, ah, uh Tsunami or whatever you said?” asked the Admiral.
The Cosmologist, without looking at his notes, stroked his heard and answered, “A Tsunami is a seismic sea wave. The Japanese gave us the word, which means large waves in harbours. There are many recorded instances of them in history; the oldest of which is the one that destroyed Atlantis. I wrote my dissertation establishing that fact, for which I was awarded a doctorate and the Gene Roddenberry Award.”
“In 1480 B.C. the entire --- and I do mean entire, Minoan civilization in the Eastern Mediterranean was wiped out by Tsunami waves generated by the volcanic explosion of the island of Santorini. And in 1883 in the Chinese settlement of Merek, over thirty-seven thousand lives were lost under waves of over one-hundred and thirty-five feet high! In 1960 in Chili, a Tsunami sent waves of twelve to twenty feet high that killed over one-hundred and ninety people, left over fifty-thousand homeless, and caused property damage of over four-hundred and twenty million dollars.”
“Wow! That would make for some mean surfing!” exclaimed the Senator’s Aide, who jumped up from his chair. He was met with silence and a stern look from The President and he cowered back into his seat. The Senator was snoring and fell out of his chair. His Aide woke him up and helped him to recover his seat and his composure as well as his dentures, which flew across the room.
“People, this is no laughing matter,” continued the Cosmologist.
“C’mon, what’s so terrifying about these waves? Hell, as a young man I remember many summers spent at Waimea Bay surfing waves as high as forty-five feet,” challenged the Aide. He smiled with the same type of smirk that covers the face of one in a sports event who believes he has bested his opponent.
Unfazed by the Aide’s challenge, the Cosmologist continued, “Those are not Tsunami. What you have described are just large sea waves that acquire their spectacular size from the effect of waves transversing deep water that suddenly encounter shallow reefs. Their speed comes from the absence of a continental shelf to slow them down.
“When we speak of Tsunami, we are talking of waves that exceed a hundred feet in height. Sometimes even two-hundred or three-hundred feet high! And imagine that giant wave coming at you at speeds of up to four-hundred miles per hour.”
“What causes these things?” queried the Air Force General. His comment seemed sarcastic but he meant it in all sincerity. “I mean, I assume these other civilizations didn’t have IGBMs?”
The Cosmologist smiled and continued, “Of course not, General. Usually, Tsunami result from an up-thrusting or down-thrusting of the sea bed in an area where the earth’s crust is unstable, resulting in a high-magnitude earthquake. They can also be caused by a major undersea landslide or a submarine volcanic eruption of a certain type and intensity. And of course, for us, they can be caused by disruptions in the moon’s gravitational force. I told you earlier about tidal forces. These are differential gravitational forces experienced at different points on bodies in orbit around one another. All points on earth and the moon are subject to gravity, but the intensity of the attraction varies with distance from the other body, so that even a slight disruption of the lunar surface could result in major Tsunami activity on earth.”
“Will someone please explain to me how the hell this colored boy acquired such sophisticated knowledge?3 Hell, until today I’d never even heard the word Tsunami!” questioned the Marine Corps General as he reached over to light another cigarette for The President.
Everyone turned to face The Director, who defended, “Don’t look at me. I’m as baffled as anyone.”
“But can he really launch those missiles?,” asked the Army Genera,. “Doesn’t he have to have the launch codes?”
“Excuse me,” interrupted the Air Force General who walked over and whispered something to The President who shook his head in the affirmative.
“Will everyone with less than a Top Secret clearance please leave the room,” commanded The President.
“What about me, Mr. President?” asked the Cosmologist.
“Yes, you too. Thanks so very much for your help. You have given me renewed optimism for the future of our Commission on Science.”
“You are welcome, Mr. President. I am here to serve,” buttered the Cosmologist. He gathered his things and exited the room followed by the Senator and his Aide, the Stenographers, and the colonels.
“We have not been able to verify whether he has the launch codes,” continued The President after the door closed. He leaned against the mantle of the fireplace.
The President looked sternly at Landest and continued. “That is why we are meeting here and not in the Situation Room at the Pentagon. The codes are locked in a safe at NORAD and only I, the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs, and the Director have the combination to the safe. Both the Chairman and I checked our combination files yesterday and they were still secure. How about you, Director? Is your file secure?”
While he waited for Landest to answer, Mr. President blew smoke circles that lifted toward the ceiling, then disappeared.
“Yes, sir, it’s secure,” answered Landest. There was some disconnect between his mind and his body. He twisted in his chair, batted his eyes, then folded, unfolded, and folded his hands. With his legs, he crossed, then uncrossed, then crossed them again. His actions were duly read by The President.
“Well, to be on the safe side, I am sending a team over this afternoon to double-check the security of the combination. Do you still maintain it at your apartment at Watergate?”
“Yes, Mr. President.”
“Okay. Now, here is why I’ve asked you here this morning. We have been given seventy-two hours to agree to the demands contained in that report you just read and to begin to implement them. Mr. Director, you got us in this mess and now you are going to get us out. You have twenty-four hours to get that sonofabitch out of NORAD. I don’t give a damn what it takes -- you, sir, had better do it. I have seen what America would look like if we have to build this Great Society and, frankly, I don’t like it. No, sir, I don’t like it not one damn bit!” The President was now standing erect and pointing his finger at Landest as he addressed him, ignoring the others in the room.
“What if we fail, Mr. President?” asked Landest, as always wanting to explore all of his options.
“Failure is not an option!” thundered The President. “We can do this and we must do it.”
The President walked over to where the Director sat and placed his hand on his shoulder.
He continued, “Son, look, the bottom line here is you have screwed up. You and the Senator took things too far and instead of a window dresser you made some kinda damn revolutionary. I am not going down in history as the only President to not lose one war -- but two! No, sir, buddy, not me. You got us in this mess and you’re going to get us out. If I have to go to the American people and tell them that America is about to become a Great Society, then I will preface my remarks with regrets of your passing. Are we on the same frequency?”
The Director flinched at the President’s touch. Yet, all he could do was answer meekly, “Yes, sir.”
The President removed his hand and returned to the fireplace. He stood very rigid and in his booming voice declared, “Not a word of this gets out of this room. Remember, we don’t have another forty-eight hours. We have only twenty-four hours -- not a minute more! But we can do this. We must do this.”
“Twenty-four hours?” boomed the Army General. “The gall of this boy! It took God six full days to create the universe and he gives us twenty-four hours to save it.”
Silence engulfed the room. It was broken by the Air Force General who remained by the fireplace.
“Mr. President, we should get you airborne until we know for sure what we’re up against,” pleaded the Air Force General in a soft, parental tone.
“The Director’s assistant has agreed to a cease-fire for seventy-two hours from the time of his so-called manifesto, which was delivered yesterday,” continued The President as if he had not heard the comments of the Air Force General.
He continued to face those in the room with the exception of the Air Force General who remained at the other side of the fireplace. The President instructed his audience, “We’ve already wasted twenty-four hours authenticating the Assistant’s message. We should take advantage of this opportunity to strengthen our forces. Mr. Army General, I want you to inform all National Guard units to stand down. I do not want another fiasco like we had in Chicago with that bungling idiot Colonel Bull Whiff.”
“Yes, sir. Should we start making plans to intern Negroes until this thing is over?” The Army General asked.
The President threw his hands up in the air and answered, “Where in the hell are we going to put over twenty-two million people? No, the Director is going to fix this problem, and then it’s just a matter of rounding up a few strays.
“We’ll bring some of the Green Berets home to carry out that task. Gentlemen, in twenty-four hours this problem will be solved and we can turn our attention back to more pressing matters overseas. In the meanwhile, I want you to start giving our coloreds from the South more visibility and keep those damn Northerners out of the public eye as much as possible. Southern coloreds know how to keep their own under control. We haven’t had the riots and lawlessness in the South that you’ve had in the North and on the East and West Coasts.”
Undeterred, the Army General tried again. “Mr. President, we are facing a real crisis here. We need to take strong measures to keep from having a colored uprising.”
Realizing the persistency of the Army General, The President turned to face him and decided to give him what is popularly called “The Treatment.”
“General,” said the President in a stern voice, “The more you stir shit, the more it smells. Have you learned nothing from the ill fated measures of General Custer who in trying to stop an uprising with a show of force caused one?”
The Army General leaned against the fireplace as a frown covered his face. As for The President, in a perfect about face he turned and said to no one in particular, “Get the Senator in here.”
Closest to the door was the Admiral who had remained silent where observing and listening to all much like the hawk which is silent until it swoops down and snatches its prey with deadly claws. Without saying anything, the Admiral stood up and left the room. He returned within seconds with the Senator.
“Mr. Senator, I want you to get with my Chief of Staff and draft a Presidential order summoning the Congress to return,” commanded The President.
He turned to face the Army General and continued, “General of the Army, I want you to work with my Chief of Staff to make sure every member of Congress is back here no later than in the morning. Take whatever means necessary to get them here. I don’t want disaster to strike because some MOC is laid up with a broad!”
“Yes, Mr. President. You can count on me,” said the Senator.
The President flicked his cigarette butt into the fireplace and turned and left the room. He made no effort to hide the anger and confusion on his face. He was already taxed beyond measure by the conflict in Southeast Asia which with each new day was becoming increasingly unpopular. He was having great difficulty finding the strength to wrestle with this emerging domestic crisis.
As he walked slowly out of the room, it was apparent to all that he strained to carry the weight placed on him, much like faithful Atlas who carried the whole world. The President was followed by the others, who left single file.
The Director, who was next to the last one to leave, was glad that this morning had come to a close and he could now get to his apartment and spend time with His Woman. His body ached. Only His Woman could ease that pain. A fire burned inside of him. Only His Woman’s Martinis could quench it. And so, with what strength he had remaining, he made his way out of the room and out of the White House and fell into the back seat of his limousine where he pulled the curtains, doing so enclosed him in darkness with his thoughts as he exhaled that he was finally en route to his apartment. He knew not how he was going to accomplish the mission that had been entrusted to him.
At this moment, he didn’t even care. All he thought about now was getting to his apartment and to the arms of His Woman. America might be on the brink of disaster but it would have to wait. The world might be in jeopardy of being destroyed. So be it! For this man, this tired and battered Director cared only for His Woman and his drink. With his curtains drawn, he did not notice that there was a Black Marine at the gate. Nor did he observe that as the vehicle snaked its way out of the White House encampment and entered Pennsylvania Avenue, the Black Marine grabbed the telephone, dialled a number, and gave some quick instructions. The Director saw none of these things. He rode on, oblivious to the disaster that was brewing among the heavens.
. . .
We humans live our lives either on the verge of a storm, in the midst of a storm, or coming out of a storm. With all of our philosophies and theologies, we have not yet envisioned a way to live our lives without constant awareness of our finitude – the most terrifying of the existential terrors we all confront.
Many of the great tragedies of human existence have been born out of vain attempts to escape the inevitable. We are born, we suffer, and we die. Even though we might believe in something or someone beyond ourselves and something or somewhere beyond this place, we live our lives weary of living but afraid to die because in the words of that soulful prophet Sam Cooke, “We don’t know what is up there beyond the sky.”
Oh, there are those who have hinted at a place called Heaven. But what exactly is Heaven? Where is it? There are as many pictures of it in the Bible as there are chapters! How many heavens are there? Did not the Apostle Paul speak of being carried as far as the third one? Dante confirmed the confusion in his great comedy. Stand on any street corner and ask passers-by at random and one will no doubt find empirical evidence to confirm the wisdom of Sam Cooke – when the chips are down, we really don’t know what’s up there beyond the clouds!
Nevertheless, whether or not there is a metaphysical reality or what many call a spiritual universe, one thing is certain – beyond the clouds of earth is a vast reality of stars and planets and other entities which, as the Cosmologist taught us, affect our lives and our fragile planet earth. There is a correspondence between us and the heavens to which Jesus hinted when he declared that whatsoever “shall be bound on earth shall be bound in heaven …”
Neither ignorance of nor ignoring this vital fact will shield us from the harm which is surely to come as the Director was about to learn. For as he left the White House, the Director, enveloped in darkness in the back seat of his limousine, concerned himself neither with the potential disturbance on the Moon nor with the storm in whose clutches he found himself so tightly confined; no, though he should have been thus occupied; on the contrary, the Director reflected on the one shore of tranquillity to which he could sail away from the storm -- his apartment where His Woman awaited his arrival. He sought no comfort, no vision beyond his apartment and his immediate need to see His Woman.
Where do you go when this “old world starts getting you down and people are just too much for you to stand?” Some people climb up on the roof, others go walking on Broadway, many go down town, while still others seek refuge on the dock of the bay. The Director did none of these things. Caught between the pressures of public service and the rigours of responsibility, he went to His Woman.
Ah-hhhh, His Woman – Fredda Turner, a five-foot, seven-inch bundle of joy from Barbados who weighed 145 pounds that were well proportioned. Her breasts were voluptuous and firm. He smiled when he recalled the many times he rested his head there for hours and hours. She had beautiful, luscious brown eyes that glistened and reflected joy whenever he peered into them. Her long black hair, which she wore in flowing curls, draped her broad shoulders and seemed to come to life and hold his face next to hers whenever her soft hands caressed his body and revived areas that he had long thought to have been dead. She was all that he had heard Negro4 women are and more.
Whenever he was in her arms, he could understand with historical clarity why the white Southerner would steal away to the slave shack at times and dig into this well of prurient delight. He could sympathize with the loss of that pleasure. With all her beauty and refinement, the white woman lacked the physique and inner spirit needed to provide the type of sensuous stroking that Negro women do.
The Director remembered the embarrassed reception of some fellow agents one night when he’d had far too many shots of The President’s Jack Daniels and said, “She has a round and firm ass that gives you more bounce per ounce!” Though he regretted having said this when and where he did, he always prided himself on this rare moment of poetic inspiration. Even now he smiled as the thought floated through his mind.
Negro she was! She was not one of those light-skinned mulatto pretenders to whiteness. She was black as night. He remembered reading the report of the agent whom he had sent to investigate the social activities of his assistant and the section where the agent kidded his assistant about being with such a dark-skinned woman when all the other Negroes in the CIA school preferred light-skinned women. “The blacker the berry, the sweeter the juice!” the Assistant replied. It was the only time he could remember his Former Assistant making him laugh.
“How sweet she is!, the Director thought as he recalled the passage. He smiled at the thought. How strange he thought it at first that her being a dark-skinned Negro did not bother him. He was equally surprised when an agency report stated that she was a prostitute.
Of course, she was no longer a “lady of the night” and he took pride in that fact, for it was he who had broken her and made her a “one-man woman,” in his words. He had even had her watched and followed in the beginning to make sure she did not have a relapse. Now, he did not bother, for the quality of their relationship assured him that she was his and only his.
Why would she not be? What use could she possibly have for another man? He provided her with a lifestyle worthy of a queen. As he so often reminded her, other men can call her a queen but he has made her one! Her apartment he rented on the floor directly above his and then had a staircase constructed in one of his closets which went into one of hers so that they could move about unmolested by the gaze of others.
They never left together or arrived together. In the several months during which they had been together, he could only recall climbing the stairs on one occasion to visit her apartment. She knew him and his schedule so intimately that it was she who descended the staircase to visit him. This is why now, as the Director felt the limousine turn into the circular driveway of the Watergate Apartment Complex and come to a stop, he knew that His Woman would be waiting for him.
Happy, then, was he as he pulled open the curtains and allowed the noonday Washington light to part the darkness and give view to the grand entry of the Watergate -- a colossal complex of commercial, apartment, and office buildings on the Potomac River that though it had a grand history this “premier” place of power and prestige had not yet captured its place in infamy and enjoyed its fifteen minutes of fame on the stage of the American consciousness.
He watched the well manicured lawns and cherry blossoms with all the self-aggrandizement of a king surveying his vast estate as the limousine made its way to the portico.
“Good afternoon, Mr. Director,” greeted a doorman. He opened the door and beckoned the Director to exit.
The doorman did not wait for an answer but moved swiftly to the entry door which he opened and held for the Director, who walked past him without saying a word and without noticing that a Negro had assumed a role which had been denied him since the revolution started. The Director walked hurriedly to the elevator that opened upon his approach and admitted him, oblivious to the shadow behind him which rushed to a nearby telephone.
Within minutes, and not a minute too soon, the Director was unlocking his apartment door and finally, finally, he was home. Who says you cannot go home again? he asked rhetorically as he closed and locked the door and stood against it. Finally, he was at home. For home is where the heart is and not necessarily the mortgage. This was his home -- his sanctuary from the world.
His home was not that place back in Virginia where his wife and children resided. That place had been constructed by his father. It was a place where he spent the night sometimes. It was not home.
For Landest, home should be that place where a person feels safe and free, even if barbarians are gathered at the gate! That is why abused children become wanderers as adults without direction and purpose -- they lack a sense of home. For what should have been their home was really a torture chamber -- a mock image of hell. And so they lack foundation. Thus, when they confront the absurdities of a blazing sun, they have nowhere to retreat except to the cave carved in the mountain that borders the dark woods where they put on their chains and take pleasure in watching the images projected on the walls.
Not so for the Director. It was here in this apartment that he could be himself, that he could express his ideas and do whatever he wanted with whomever he wanted. He had spent most of his life in a cave where he had seen only optical illusions -- the things he saw were not as they appeared. All that he was; all that he said and did; was dictated by others.
Now he had escaped the cave of control and was able to open his eyes wide and take hold of a new reality. He even saw Negroes in a new light. Despite the agony and difficult problems his Former Assistant caused him, the Assistant had proven that Negroes were not inferior and that only a cave-dwelling mentality perpetuated this discord between the races. His Former Assistant had excelled in class and sports and was a highly competent administrator. The Former Assistant made those he worked for shine in the eyes of their superiors and he was very good at building consensus.
Though he did not say so publicly, the Director considered his Former Assistant the best evidence of the need for America to begin in earnest to resolve its race problem. The Assistant was a must-have at state dinners and other events attended by persons from foreign lands who sought proof that America was in fact the land of the free and a place of equal opportunity. The Assistant and the other Negroes who entered the CIA and completed successfully their training, was that proof as far as the Director And The President were concerned.
Consequently, when the Assistant left the CIA and returned to Chicago and started his reign of violence, many hands pointed to the Director As the person to blame. Thus, while he admired the Assistant’s tenacity and accomplishments, Landest hated his Former Assistant who he now thought of as a traitor. For Landest considered his Former Assistant to not only have betrayed the trust he put in him, he betrayed the American people and all those Negroes who have struggled to strip away what W.E.B. DuBois has called the “veil” of race.
Since this so-called revolution started, Landest immersed himself in reading Negro literature in an attempt to gain insight into the mind of his new foe. Dubois' writings impressed him and Landest now accused his Former Assistant of squandering the opportunity he had been given to pierce the veil and open a way through which more of his people could enter to find opportunity in the halls of power.
However, instead of taking advantage of these rare opportunities, Landest’s Assistant “spit in the face” of Landest and America, as the Director often said, in an ill attempt to launch a so-called revolution and in so doing had thrown race relations hundreds of years backwards.
How could the Assistant or anyone else possibly believe that violence could be successfully used against a people who controlled the world’s greatest arsenal of weapons of mass destruction? Had not the Assistant seen the demise and coming demise of groups like the Black Panthers, the Republic of New Africa, the Black Liberation Front, and others?
More importantly, the Assistant, in his violence and destruction, played into the darkest fears of American whites -- many of whom already lived on the abyss of fear that Negroes would murder them in their sleep. Far too many whites now slept with one eye open sparking a resurgence of the KKK and similar groups.
But, Landest reasoned, his Former Assistant did an even greater disservice to his own people. He opened the festering sores of violence that had been covered by Band-aids of hope in the emerging civil rights movement and caused young Negroes to believe that violence was the only viable tool left to them. This new belief was swiftly becoming a national religion symbolized by a clenched fist and the slogan, “Black Power!” Nowhere in the psyche of this new movement did the thought emerge that what was being done was the substitution of one racism for another.
Not so for the Black middle class. Members of this class continued to heed the call of DuBois to become both African and American without denigrating either. This middle class did not seek equality with whites, they sought equal access to all the spheres of justice in this place called the United States of America. They sought to cultivate the soils stained with the blood of their forebears in the hope of yielding the fruits of freedom and community. The Director had thought, mistakenly, his Former Assistant belonged to this emerging middle class of Negroes.
It was no wonder, then, that the Director was shocked when he learned that his Former Assistant was the leader of the recent acts of violence that had swept across America. Deep was the pain and distress he experienced each time he was reminded that he had trained this man -- had taken him under his wing, had even called him friend. It grieved him to the depths of his heart to think how he had allowed his Former Assistant to share an office next to his and even travel with him. Treachery is never so great as when it is committed by a friend.
Throughout all that time and it sickened him to think of it, he envisioned his Former Assistant was laughing at him while recording every observation to be used later for strategic purposes in his ill-fated enterprise. And now, after he believed his Assistant was dead, the so-called Great Society Manifesto surfaced. Landest wondered whether someone or some subversive organization was behind the Former Assistant for surely, despite his tenacity and talents, things had moved much beyond the capabilities of a group of Negroes – even if it were a group he helped to train.
He was frustrated that no such person or organization had been found. However, Landest was sure that he would discover the person or persons behind his Former Assistant. Notwithstanding this belief in someone behind the Assistant, Landest still saw his Former Assistant as the top traitor and anarchist. That is why he hated him and come tomorrow, Landest would find “the fiend” and destroy him. That was tomorrow. Today, the Director had other plans.
He closed his eyes against the thoughts of his Former Assistant; choosing instead to savour this moment of being home again. He became aware of the music that touched the depths of his soul which he recognized as Lucia singing “Alfin son tua” from the opera, “Lucia D Lammermoor” by Donizetti. His Woman had remembered to put on a record of the music from his most favourite opera.
Landest opened his eyes, expecting to fall into her arms as he had so many times before. She was not there. He walked over the blue super-dense, plush wool carpet to his mahogany bar with its marble top where His Woman had left a crystal pitcher of Martini and a pair of white silk panties on which she had written: “Welcome home, honey, I’m in the shower. Have a drink and enjoy the opera. I’ll be with you by the time Edgardo bows.”
“She’s learning well,” the Director thought as a broad smile covered his face. He lifted the panties to his nose and inhaled deeply the Chanel Number Five and allowed the scent to travel to his olfactory nerves and then mix with his soul. With drink and panties in hand, he walked over to his bedroom door and opened it.
The sound of the pulsating waters of the shower escaped from behind the closed bathroom door and bombarded his mind. He pushed open the bedroom door so that he could watch His Woman emerge from the shower. Noticing her pink chiffon robe sprawled out on the bed, he returned to the bar and poured himself another drink, then made his way to a nearby recliner. He took the Waterford crystal with him. After downing his second drink in one quick gulp, he poured himself another.
Calm, relaxed – no longer tensed, Landest got up from the chair and took off his suit coat which he tossed over the back of the couch. Likewise, he took off his neck tie and threw it on top of the coat. He opened the top button of his shirt as he reclaimed his seat and laid the panties on his lap where he could read its message while sipping his drink.
Landest forgot about his Former Assistant and the so-called revolution. His mind cleared itself of The President and all the other thoughts that had occupied him this day. Now, his only thoughts were of His Woman and this place of refuge and the passing of the torch from Lucia to Edgardo, who was singing his aria “Tu che a Dio spiegasti Fali.”
Suddenly, Landest became aware that he was feeling much too at ease -- that his head was too light and his body too relaxed. He watched the glass fall from his hand as he lost control of voluntary action except for the shifting of his eyes.
He tried to get up but could not. His mouth was dry. He tried to call out to His Woman but no sound issued forth. His eyes began to close and his respiration grew ever so faint. Both blood pressure and pulse rate decreased.
The Director fought harder. His eyes opened. He was in the hospital. There was a slap on his rear which caused tears to gush from his eyes -- violence and tears: the drumbeats of human existence. Next, he was seven years of age and his father was scolding him because the bully down the street had sent him home with a black eye. His father made him go back outdoors with a warning that he could not return to the house until he had defeated the bully. It was then he had learned to fight, to use the bully’s strength against him.
Then he was eight and found himself arguing with his mother about his desire to play Little League baseball. She refused and made him take piano lessons instead. At ten his father intervened and signed him up for football and despite his wanting to be a wide receiver, his father had moulded him into a quarterback. By seventeen, the handsome young man was making plans to go to Harvard when his father informed him that the future Director had been appointed to the United States Military Academy at West Point.
Next he was twenty-one years of age. Having won the Heisman Trophy, he was anxious for the NFL draft. He was confident he would be selected in the first round. His hopes were dashed when his father announced that the future Director had been commissioned into the Army. Without protest, Landest went off to the Army.
At twenty-five Landest met a beautiful redhead in Germany whom he fell in love with and flew home to secure his parents’ permission to marry. They refused for they had selected the daughter of the then-Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff for their son to wed. With a heavy heart he submitted to the will of his parents and married a woman whom he not only did not love -- he could never love.
Thus had he spent the best years of his life in the Army and had served with distinction in three different wars and numerous conflicts. Landest retired as a four-star general at age fifty-two and decided that he had fulfilled his parents’ wishes for his life and had earned the right to live as he had always wanted to.
Freedom, ever fleeting in mind and circumstance, did not come. His parents got him appointed to head the CIA and with it life in a fish bowl. Though Landest soon learned that being the head of the world’s foremost spy agency had its advantages; he could construct a private lifestyle which would enable him, the obedient child, hidden from his parents.
Although they had now gone the way of all parents, he continued to live two separate and very distinct lives. However, it was not until he met His Woman that his life really took on new and exciting meaning and he learned the definition of passion.
Away from His Woman, everything seemed so perfunctory. His life was like a movie in which everything he said and did was scripted by someone else and in which he was forbidden from deviating from the script. Consequently, Landest learned to be a good actor and thus far no one suspected him of carrying on an affair with His Woman.
The thought of His Woman brought him back to the now. His Woman? Where is she? He had to see her. In desperation, the Director tried with all his energy to get up from the chair. He finally did and moved swiftly to the bathroom door. Something was not right. Time and space seemed out of harmony. Terror gripped him when he touched the knob of the bathroom door for his hand went straight through it. Hesitantly, fearful of what he might see, he turned and looked behind him. His body remained in the recliner. The futility of his struggle became clear to him.
In recent years, Landest thought himself to be like Sisyphus -- finally having taken control of his life in his struggle against the gods. Now he knew the truth. He was but rolling a stone that signified nothing -- that got him nowhere – defiance yes, but absurdity nevertheless.
His freedom was an illusion. What the Director took for meaning was hollow nonsense. So was the love and trust he placed in His Woman an illusion that now ushered him toward the light.
Here is a man who plumed the depths of the deep and dark recesses of the Russian mind to enable America to stay one step ahead of the Russian Bear. But what man can fathom the depths of a woman’s heart? For in what creature under the cosmos is deceit so firmly entrenched and so perfectly disguised? These last questions dis-eased the mind of Landest as the last note sounded. Edgardo bowed. A bright, encompassing light exploded before Landest. The Director was no more.
Landest could not be blamed for not responding to the doorbell that had now been replaced by a harsh pounding. It was the detail dispatched by The President to verify that the director’s NORAD safe combination was intact. The detail consisted of three Secret Service agents, the Deputy Director of the CIA and the Air Force General who had been at the White House meeting that morning. They too heard the music stop.
The Deputy Director extracted a key from his wallet. He was the only one whom the director trusted with a key and it was the Deputy Director who came over to the apartment twice a week to allow the cleaning crew in. Now, as he extracted the key and inserted it into the lock, a haunting, foreboding fear gripped him. It was a feeling he had not felt since the day he received the telephone call informing him of that tragedy in Dallas that ended the brief reign of Camelot.
The door opened slowly as if it concealed a truth it was reluctant to reveal. A deathly silence greeted the weary visitors as they entered the apartment and saw the limp mass in the chair. The Secret Service Agents withdrew their weapons and motioned for the Deputy and General to wait at the door as they swept the apartment to determine if a threat existed. The Agent who searched the bedroom and bathroom turned the water off in the shower. He was perplexed that no one was in it and yet a female robe was laid out on the bed. This discrepancy caused him to glance at the dead Director And then the robe. A sigh issued forth when he returned to the living room and read the panties. “Oh my God! It can't be!” exclaimed the Deputy Director. His shout was simultaneous with one of the Secret Service Agents discovery that the Director was dead.
Like cowboys jumping from blazing saddles, the group rushed over behind the bar and removed a painting of Prometheus Bound that had been presented to the director by Andy Warhol when the director became head of the CIA. After removing the painting, the Deputy Director opened the wall safe which the painting had covered.
“It’s empty. The damn thing’s empty!” shouted the Deputy Director.
The Deputy Director’s words were drowned out by the scream of one of the Secret Service Agents who beckoned them to the bedroom where he had found a staircase inside a closet. The group ascended the stairs that ended in another closet – the door of which was locked. As he had done before, the Deputy Director extracted another key from his wallet and unlocked the door. They entered into a bedroom that was in disarray. It was obvious that whoever had been there had left in a hurry.
“Okay. Let’s seal this room tighter than Pharaoh's tomb,” fired the Deputy Director.
“I want every inch of it searched and searched again until every loose fibre is tagged and boxed. I don’t want anyone to enter either of these rooms without my express authorization.”
He walked over to a nearby telephone and dialled the private line to The President.
“Hello, Mr. President? We have a problem! The Director is dead.”
The President gave a deep sigh but otherwise remained silent. The Deputy continued.
“Looks like he was poisoned. But our bigger problem is the combination to the NORAD safe is missing along with other documents vital to our national defence,” said the Deputy Director in a barely audible voice.
“Listen to me very carefully,” barked The President. “I want you to take personal control over this matter. The official word is the director died of a heart attack. I don’t want anything to get out about the missing documents. We can do this. We must do this. Do you understand?”
“Yes, Mr. President,” whispered the Deputy.
“I want you to tear that place apart,” continued The President, “until you come up with some answers and report directly to me. And remember the admonition of Jawaharla Nehru...”
The Deputy Director did not have the foggiest idea of whom The President spoke. However, rather than ask, he gave the proverbial, “Yes, sir, what was that famous saying of his, Mr. President?”
“He said, ‘Every little thing counts in a crisis.’”
“Of course, Mr. President. What about the Director’s Assistant?”
“Leave that to me. You have your hands full there. Actually, I need to go outside the Agency on this one. I know just who to call to get him. We can do this and by God we will,” concluded The President. He hung up the phone without giving any warning.
The sudden click of the telephone did not faze the Deputy Director who was quite accustomed to such rudeness that others took as the normal way of conducting affairs in Washington, D.C. He shifted his attention to the vital task before him.
And so this motley crew went to work on deconstructing the adjoining apartments in an effort to construct the story which they had to tell. Every item would be inspected to its basic atom. All would be questioned -- nothing would be left untouched or to chance. No matter how innocuous a thing might appear, it would be examined and re-examined.
A specialized crime scene search unit would be called in from CIA headquarters. The Director’s body would be sent to the CIA forensic unit for an autopsy performed by three skilled technicians who would wring from this clump of death a tale which only dead men can tell. All of this would be to determine the truth so that it could be forever sequestered.
For even now The President was shouting orders to his Chief of Staff to rearrange his afternoon so he could make a personal call on the Director’s wife to deliver to her the sad news before the Press got hold of the story.
However, history was on the side of The President as these were still the years of tranquillity between the Office of President and the Press and great deference was paid to this venerable office even if its occupant was a scoundrel. The Office of President was the symbol of democracy -- no wonder then that its central seat of power was an oval office -- symbolic of the womb that gives birth to humanity. Every four years the United States of America would undergo a rebirth and emerge stronger than before and nearer to her manifest destiny. Of course, there would be times when the Office would suffer a miscarriage and even yield forth a rare stillbirth. But even then, the womb would renew itself in the fires of public discourse and go on without the letting of blood -- that is the genius of the American system of government.
As evening turned to night and the mystic moon peeped over the distant horizon, the people of this city on the Potomac went about their usual affairs oblivious to the storm that now engulfed the executive branch of government. The usual round of State dinners and parties got under way. Secretaries let their hair down as bosses became the bossed. Angels of the day became the devils of night. Merriment was everywhere in the air.
“If only they had known” that “something wicked” their way came and was already there. They did not know. Like so many highway travellers, they moved too fast to read the warning signs along the way. Nor did they sense sudden moisture in the air -- a sure sign that there were climatic changes approaching. For had they so sensed this dampness, they would have taken steps to avert the disaster which was spreading among the heavens.
They did not know. In ignorance they went on. However, The President was denied the bliss of ignorance. He travailed in pain for the wife of the director And the task now before him. He disdained the chore of being a messenger of death to one already in precarious health. And so as his stretched limousine moved ever closer to her house, The President saw the wife’s face in his mind and fumbled for words to comfort her even as he broke her heart. Oh, whatever Gods may be, why can’t we humans be spared such misery?
Why must the fate of the heavens and earth be so intertwined? And why can humans not find ways to solve problems except by resorting to violence?
Pertinent as these questions are, there would be no answers this night nor any of the nights to come. A disaster was brewing among the heavens, and that meant trouble for earth.
. . .
Shannon McMillan tried to look inconspicuous as he took his seat at a corner table of Skinny Minnie’s Blues Club on Beale Street in Memphis, Tennessee – the namesake of Skinny Minnie, a five-feet-six-inches blues singer who achieved fame and fortune with the blues “crossover” hit, “Big Things Come in Little Packages,” which reached number four on the Billboard Charts in 1954 and helped move the Blues genre into the mainstream of popular music. Less than two years old, the club had already become an American icon and a must visit for anyone coming to Memphis.
Shannon knew this from the briefing he had received when he was given his present assignment upon his return from the Middle East. Thus, he thought he would be able to visit the club without distraction since other visitors would be there, among them whites. However, he was fighting a losing battle. Many of those present took notice of his well groomed dark brown hair which seemed to shine under the fluorescent lights of the club and which he had to constantly brush off his forehead. Although he was in the South where many worked out of doors, his tanned skin and athletic six-foot-seven frame made others take notice of him. His well-tailored blue suit with light blue shirt and golden tie with matching handkerchief added to his attractiveness. Hardly anyone who saw Shannon would have guessed his age at 58 – he looked so much younger.
“What’ll it be, dawlin'?”
Shannon’s concentration was broken by a waitress whom he had not seen approach his table. In her mid-twenties, she was light skinned (what many called “high yellow”) and wore a black short skirt which was longer than a mini skirt but shorter than the length of most skirts (in reflection, Shannon could not recall seeing any skirts in the Middle East). She complimented her skirt with a pink halter top, black stockings and black high heels. Her hair was medium length, dark brown and curly which she teased into a semblance of an Afro.
Without hesitation Shannon answered, “Absinthe on the rocks.”
“Cuse me?” responded the Waitress. She gave Shannon one of those “what the hell” kind of looks as her pen and pad dropped to her sides.
“An Absinthe on the rocks,” repeated Shannon. He continued, “A-b-s-i-n-t-h-e.”
“Fine!” retorted the Waitress. She wrote the word down then disappeared, but not before giving Shannon a questioning look.
At the moment, he was the only white person present in a place that was filling rapidly with people anxious to see Bobby Blue Bland, who was making the first live appearance of an entertainer on Beale Street since the start of the revolution.
Shannon glanced around the small intimate setting. Were it not for its noisiness, it would have reminded him of the many exotic locations he visited during his recent tour of duty in the Middle East -- one of his many rewards for having ended the career of Rommel in Africa during World War II.
This was his first excursion south of the Mason-Dixon Line. His only knowledge of the South was what he had read in history books and seen on the NBC White Papers television news series. Shannon was born and raised in the East and the private schools he attended always had a few people of color among its students--though most of them were the children of diplomats. Search as he may through the recesses of his mind, he could not recall any noticeable tension between the races during his childhood and his parents did not make any references to people by the color of their skin. Thus, he was indifferent, though not callous, towards the plight of race relations in America – choosing instead to focus on doing the job he was paid to do.
“We don’t have that, whatever you call it,” said the Waitress. She startled Shannon as she approached his table from the side and being deep in thoughts he did not see her until after she spoke.
“Okay, give me Vodka on the rocks with a twist of lime,” smiled Shannon, hoping to make it easy on the Waitress who was not wearing a name tag. She wrote the information down and disappeared. Shannon did not watch her as she left, choosing instead to return to his thoughts.
Shannon had been offered the directorship of the CIA which he turned down saying it was too confining and he “Did not want to live in a fish bowl.”
He was 58 and had given the military thirty years of service. Fearing being stuck behind a desk – even if it was one as plush as that of the director of the CIA, Shannon shocked The President and his family and friends when he declined the directorship.
Another factor arguing against his accepting the position was his awareness of the changing climate of Washington, D.C. He could sense restlessness among the Press Corps and saw its members becoming more hostile toward government officials. Life in the Capitol City was becoming like living in a fish bowl. He wanted no part of a glass menagerie.
Neither did he want any part of a family; so not only had he refused to marry, he opted out of the developing trend of cohabitation. Freedom and excitement were what motivated Shannon. Allegiance to those values sparked his retirement from the Army as a major general and his acceptance of the newly created position of Special Envoy for Middle Eastern Protocol with the CIA. It was this latter assignment which brought him to Skinny Minnie’s Blues Club.
“Here ya go,” said the Waitress. This time Shannon noticed her approach. She walked defiantly – much like one who is committed to doing what one is doing even though one does not want to do it. Like the soldier drafted into the Marine Corps who seeks to excel, the Waitress seemed to be living beneath her dreams but determined to make the best of a bad situation.
After the Waitress sat the drink on the table in front of him, he took a quick sip from it and let out a deep ah-hhhhhhhhhh. As he did so, the quarter lime slice which had been forced on the side of the glass fell to the floor.
“Sorry about that,” said Shannon. He was about to pick up the lime when the Waitress scooped it up.
“That'll be three dollars,” she snorted.
Shannon extracted a five-dollar bill from his wallet which he removed from his inner breast pocket and handed it to the Waitress. “Keep the change,” he said as the Waitress took the bill.
“Why, thanks,” she whispered, smiling for the first time during her encounter with Shannon. She moved quickly away from the table but with some pep in her step.
Again, Shannon took a sip of the beverage and returned to his musings. Though he had carte blanche to move among the nouveau rich of the Middle East who were covered in the unlimited wealth brought about by the ever increasing discoveries of oil, Shannon grew tired of watching people get wealthy instead of watching them vie for power.
Overnight once so-called backwards countries became rich and focused on building buildings rather than kingdoms. This sudden shift brought with it the need for protection. Money can bring power but seldom protection. It was here that Shannon and former military officers like him, became the experts of choice for sultans and kings. Red Adair, the world’s master at putting out fires, was the other one. And so, Shannon was very wealthy but bored. He longed for action. Shannon became the top advisor on security and national defence for the emerging governments of the Middle East, especially as these new nations began to break away from the fundamentalist restraints of Islam and to take on more Western ways.
He was also America’s top spy charged with the awesome task of keeping an ever increasing paranoid government aware of possible communist leanings of these most recent players on the world’s stage. Of course, America had nothing to worry about in this latter regard. The kings and sultans had no use for communism. They were the first and last word of the script of life in their countries, and so they had no use for modern theories. The old ones suited them just fine.
“Here, hope this helps.” The Waitress returned with a small plate of limes cut in small slices and a shaker of salt. She did not wait for a response – leaving as quickly as she had arrived.
Shannon jumped slightly in his seat then turned to face the waitress as she disappeared. He noticed how shapely she was and how she walked with the grace of a model even though she was wearing high heels. He ate several slices of lime, took another sip of his drink, and returned to his thoughts.
The world was changing. It was no longer the USSR versus the West. A Dragon had raised its wings over the Sun and eclipsed its grandeur. Its influence was already being felt in Korea and Vietnam and the rest of Southeast Asia. For America to try to guide these emerging nations of the desert toward an alignment with the West became a critical task for overseas “operatives” such as Shannon.
Overnight the Old Testament experienced a great revival as it became the best source for information on the history of Persia, Mede, Tyre, and others. New prophets emerged who could read and understand prophecy and read the signs of the times. A plumber in Germany suggested the time was ripe for the return of an alien presence from beyond the second heaven. A writer in America hinted that earth itself was passing away and began to speak of “The Late Great Planet Earth.”
Neither prophet nor historian, Shannon was right in the middle of these new happenings. But, in the words of the Sultan of Blues, “the thrill [was] gone.” Making money is good only to the extent it allows one to do what one loves to do. Shannon was making lots of money but the thrill was gone out of his life. He was not making things happen but participating in what was happening beyond his control.
Thus it was that no persuasion was needed to get him to come home for the sole purpose of tracking down a rogue ex-agent. He was intrigued by this assignment which he considered extremely critical since he was given a private jet and an unlimited budget and was required to answer only to The President.
Consequently, Shannon devoured the voluminous file on the Director’s assistant with eager interest and anticipation. Unlike the director who tended to ridicule and minimize his Former Assistant, Shannon admired this rebel and held him in the same esteem in which he had held Rommel. Underestimating one’s opponent is always dangerous as the fate of Goliath embodies. Ironically, as Shannon was always quick to point out, the thrill of victory is lessened somewhat when one overcomes a lesser opponent. What exhilaration could Goliath have possibly experienced in defeating a little boy with a sling shot and five smooth stones?
But admiration does not equal acceptance. Shannon saw major flaws in the Director’s assistant and for that reason refused to elevate him too high. In fact, Shannon found it strange that the Director’s assistant had gotten as far as he had. Most experts agreed that a violent revolution could not be sustained in America for long, given that there were not many places from which one could launch a strike at night then retreat to at daybreak. There were not enough mountains and caves and other places in which revolutionaries could hide out. Moreover, most apartment complexes and houses were not so designed as to be able to conceal from government radar and spy planes the weaponry needed for such a revolution. However, much of what had been written about domestic terrorism and civil disorder would have to be rewritten in view of the Director’s Assistant’s accomplishments. Of particular interest would be how he was able to amass such fire-power without foreign assistance. So too would textbooks be re-written to explore how a small band of “rioters” could take over a major military installation such as NORAD.
Shannon shifted his focus from the Assistant to the director as he noticed the lights go dim in the club. The director and his Assistant seemed forever linked now and thinking about one almost immediately led to thoughts of the other. It saddened Shannon that he could not attend the funeral of the Director whom he understood had suffered a heart attack.
The President quashed such interest by declaring a state of emergency in terms of Shannon’s mission – not a single moment could be spared. Shannon was directed to proceed with his new mission with “all due speed.”
These were the things that occupied Shannon’s mind. He was brought home to end the career of yet another gadfly in the ointment of the American military machine. Once again, the American government had created its own worst enemy. Now, it was Shannon's mission to locate and neutralize that enemy. He had less than forty-eight hours to accomplish his task.
Consequently, rather than go to his home in Annapolis, Maryland or to Washington, D.C., his plane was diverted to Memphis on orders of The President. Here he was to locate six bail bondsmen to accompany him to Colorado where the Assistant had taken residence at NORAD. He was told that the bail bondsmen he would meet were experts in tracking down and apprehending Negroes. They had a national reputation for being the best in the business. Furthermore, they could be trusted to keep their mouths shut --choosing to open wide their wallets instead. In fact, they had agreed to the mission only after they were promised no bond forfeitures for two years following their completion of the assigned mission.
It was for the arrival of his crew that he now waited. As he waited, Shannon heard the house band take the stage, set up, then play a few notes to tune their instruments. Without hesitation, he shouted, “Yea!” while clapping his hands ferociously.
“Settle down, man. They’re just warming up,” beamed a voice from behind Shannon.
He turned to behold a brown skinned male in his mid-thirties, about five-nine, with short wavy hair. A gold peace medallion dangled over his blue Nehru jacket which covered a completely buttoned white shirt complimented by black slacks. He held a can of Schlitz Malt Liquor.
“Who are you?” asked a startled Shannon.
“I’m ya man, Detective Rodney Simmons of the Memphis PD Special Crimes Unit,” Rodney answered. He extended his right hand as he sat down next to Shannon so they could both have a clear view of the stage.
“Didn’t know I had a man or needed one,” replied Shannon in a bit of sarcasm.
Rodney took a long gulp from his drink, set it down on the table, then rubbed his left hand over his wavy hair which he kept cut within the inch recommended by Murray’s Hair Pomade.
He smiled as he turned slightly in his chair to face Shannon. “Chill dude, my captain was alerted by the FBI of your arrival and suggested we give you some assistance. Captain thought me the man for the job so here I be.”
“Here you be for what?” asked Shannon. He downed the remainder of his drink followed by several more lime slices then caught the eye of the Waitress to signal he needed another drink.
“Here to help you. To make sure we get to Colorado right away.”
“We? What we? Sorry, dude, I work alone.” Shannon tried to mimic Rodney by emphasizing the word dude but failed to do it justice.
“Can I help you?” asked the Waitress. She forced a smile.
“Another round,” ordered Shannon.
“Sure,” replied the Waitress. She gave each of the men a quick glance, wrote down their drink order then disappeared.
“Look man, don’t give me that high and mighty shit. You ain’t Bond, dig it? I’ve peeped your game, man. You been out of action too long and you are gonna need my help. Get off that high horse before you get knocked off!”
“By whom? You?” Shannon stood up. He felt insulted by Rodney.
“Cool it, man. You wanna make a scene and blow your cover? Like I said, I’m here to help.”
Shannon reclaimed his seat.
“C’mon man, you know you need my help. You don’t have to ask for it. I’m offering it to you. Sorry if I hit you too strong. But Captain ordered me to accompany you on urgent business affecting National Security. When Captain speaks, we peons obey. Okay?”
Rodney extended his right hand to Shannon who looked at it, then into Rodney’s eyes, then repeated this ritual several times before he took the hand and shook it. He was about to speak when the Waitress returned with their drinks and set them down on the table.
“That’ll be four-fifty. You wanna run a tab?”
“No, here you go. Keep the change,” answered Shannon as he handed her a five dollar bill which she accepted and disappeared.
“That is one fine hamma! You agree?” Rodney observed as he watched the Waitress leave.
Shannon did not reply immediately. He took a quick drink, paused a few minutes, then said, “Yes, she has some powerful assets.”
Both men laughed. For the first time since they met, they relaxed and began to enjoy each other’s company.
Rodney broke the silence. “Man, I am so glad to finally get some action other than busting prostitutes and weed heads.”
Shannon did not answer immediately. Rodney continued, “It is so cool to be back on Beale Street. They closed it expecting some shit to happen but nothing came but boredom.”
“What exactly were you expecting?” Shannon asked.
“Not sure,” Rodney said. “At first it was a riot, then someone mentioned revolution. Finally, Captain just said some wild shit from Chicago. Even had the National Guard here on Beale.”
Beale Street had been a bristling part of the social life of Blacks since the early 1900s. Most of the shops and bars and other businesses were owned by Blacks. It had become a major entertainment Mecca for Black entertainers – many of whom could not play at white establishments and almost all of whom could not go to white establishments to be entertained. Segregation had given rise to this sprawling portion of the City of Memphis and many a career had been incubated if not born here.
In recent years, Beale Street had fallen on hard times thanks to the oppressive reign of terror against Black businesses by E.H. “Boss” Crump who had a vision of buying these properties cheap and then developing them into business parks and the new development called strip shopping centers. Beale Street reflected an increasing national phenomenon that saw few and fewer Black businesses survive desegregation. The NAACP’s Legal Defense Fund had been successful in a series of landmark Supreme Court decisions that stripped segregation of the imprimatur of the law. Unfortunately, liberated Blacks took advantage of the situation by immigrating to the north, where the Harlem Renaissance had given birth to a hunger for Black literature, art, and music. Shop owners closed their shops and headed north. Black entertainers followed them. Customers did likewise.
There was also the unintended turning away of Blacks from Black-owned businesses to white businesses whose doors had been closed to them for too long. Freedom to choose brought with it economic bondage. The opening of doors to white businesses resulted in the closing of doors to Black businesses. Those doors would remain closed until opened by immigrants from afar armed with earnings from American soldiers and black gold from the Middle East.
The revolution caused Beale Street further decline as whites refused to enter the “colored district” at night and Blacks feared being victims of bullets and bombs meant for whites. It was the revolution that brought martial law and tanks and personnel carriers to a street once busied with Cadillacs and Lincolns.
Hence the bravery and determination of Skinny Minnie who reopened his club and booked one of the country’s greatest Blues singers to breathe life into Beale Street. The Mayor, worried about declining city revenues, successfully persuaded the governor to remove military personnel from the famed street with the promise of a greater undercover police presence.
No wonder then that Rodney and others now packed this icon of blues venues, which had struggled beyond the grave and back to keep hope alive on Beale Street and maintain some semblance of Black culture in this city of music. A recess had been called in the violence and death that ran rampant over the city for the past few months. Now Rodney and his fellows were out in mass to celebrate it. Still, Beale Street was a long ways from its glory days; it would be several decades before its resurgence. Nevertheless, tonight was a grand start.
“What’ll it be?” asked a brown skinned, short waitress whose name tag indicated her name was “Tonya.”
Tonya wore black hot pants and black stockings which faded into a pair of white mid-calf boots. She had on a pink silk blouse which curved into a v both in the front and in the back and around her neck she wore a Black power medallion formed out of shoe laces. Her hair was black and short and was teased out into what was commonly referred to as a natural or Afro.
Rodney undressed her with his eyes then said, “What happened to, er, ah, uhhh …”
“You mean Roslyn, she went on break. She’ll be back once the band starts,” explained Tonya with a smile.
“I can dig it,” responded Rodney. He gave her the once over then continued, “Bring me a Schlitz Malt Liquor and bring my friend a … What are you drinking partner?”
Shannon smiled at the word partner then answered, “Vodka on the rocks with a twist of lime, and bring me a glass of water.”
“You got it,” said Tonya. She then let out a loud pop of her gum and walked away. The two men watched her move away as if she were floating on air. Rodney paid particular attention to what he described as a “well-defined ass.”
“Man, I’d like to have some of that!” exclaimed Rodney.
Shannon smiled and said, “I’d like a piece of that.” He motioned across the room to where a blond haired, tall and muscular white woman had just entered and sat down at one of the tables closest to the stage. She was accompanied by five other rather healthy looking white women.
Wonder what the hell they’re doing here? mused Rodney. There was a time several years ago when the presence of whites on Beale Street would not have caused any concern. Times were different in this age of desegregation and fear engendered by the revolution. Rodney’s years of working vice suggested that something was amiss about this sextet, but he could not pinpoint what it was. He decided to keep an eye on them and continued to watch as they took their seats and ordered drinks.
“Here ya go. Gotta hurry. My main man’s about to hit the stage,” laughed Tonya. She placed the drinks on the table. “That’ll be four dollars and fifty cents.”
Rodney handed her a ten-dollar bill and said, “Keep the change. Say, anyone ever tell you, you be one fine momma!”
Tonya laughed, took the money, popped her gum and walked away.
Rodney turned to Shannon. “Man, how could you be gone so long from a woman like that?”
“Ever seen a belly dancer?” Shannon asked. He smiled.
“Belly dancer? Hell, man, I don’t want no woman whose stomach is bigger than her ass!”
The two men joined in a hearty laugh. Finally, the ice had melted and they were enjoying each other’s company. Shannon was about to explain the misconceptions about belly dancers when the jolly pair was disrupted by noise coming from the entry door. They turned around to see a dark skinned male of about five feet and four inches and weighing about 240 pounds enter the club dressed in a lime green double breasted walking suit with a long black fur coat draped over his shoulders. He had a huge gold lion’s head on a thick gold chain around his neck and perched on top his head was a lime green stove pipe fur hat which tilted to the left side.
This curious fellow was surrounded by four other Blacks who wore black pants with green Nehru jackets over black shirts and each had a large Afro which sparkled under the colored lights of the bar. They took the table next to the white women which sported a reserved sign.
Rodney and Shannon watched the two groups interact as the night wore on and the drinks flowed and Bobby Blue Bland sang the blues. First, he belted out “St. James Infirmary,” and then he did the classic, “If You Gonna Walk On My Love, The Least You Can Do Is Take Off Your Shoes!” He followed up with many of his other hits.
“Man, they don’t make music like that anymore,” Rodney observed. “Not since the British invasion took over the airways. Hell, all you hear about in music now is drugs and getting high.”
Shannon did not respond. He had no idea what was happening on the American music scene; although he always enjoyed the Blues.
“Here’s to the Blues!” Shannon raised his near empty glass the length of his arm then took a long swallow.
“For sure!” agreed Rodney, who did likewise. He shifted his attention to the two tables to monitor the interaction between the two. His ill feeling about both groups continued. He was on his third drink when his suspicions came to fruition.
Bobby Blue Bland was singing “Stormy Monday” when two of the white women got up and headed to the back towards the bathrooms. After a few minutes, the blond got up and winked at the Black in the lime colored walking suit who followed her to the back. A few more minutes passed and then came a loud, crashing sound from the back.
The remaining three white women jumped from their seats and pulled out pistols, which they pointed at the Blacks who had accompanied the man in the lime suit and the tallest of the three shouted in a masculine voice, “Don’t move, or I’ll blow your freaking brains out!”
“Ah shit!” shouted Rodney. He pulled out his gun and pointed it at the white women/men and shouted, “Freeze, assholes!”
This distracted the whites and gave the Blacks an opportunity to pull their weapons. Pandemonium exploded. The band rushed for cover as the crowd hit the floor. Gun shots rang out. Shannon remained in his seat with a cool that contrasted the heat of the disturbance.
When it was over, four of the whites and three of the Blacks lay mortally wounded while the remainder were seriously injured and had to be rushed to the hospital. The blond and the man in the lime suit were among the dead. Five customers were killed and twenty-three were injured.
“What the hell happened?” shouted an angry Captain as he approached Rodney and Shannon who were standing at the bar. Shannon remained silent.
“Who the hell are you?” the Captain asked as he faced Shannon.
Shannon took out his identification and flashed it before the Captain.
“Oh, sorry, General McMillan, I did not recognize you,” apologized the Captain.
“What is the CIA doing in Memphis?”
“Captain, that’s top secret,” answered Shannon. He gave Rodney, who was still straightening his clothes, a quick glance. “Were you not given any information as to my mission?”
“Hello, no. Just told me you were coming. But you can bet your sweet ass I’m gonna find out. Meanwhile, don’t you fart without my knowing it.” The Captain then turned to Rodney and asked, “All right, now what the hell happened here?”
Before Rodney could speak, a police officer came over and said in rapid fire, “Captain, the blond over there is Curly Mulestep, a local bail bondsman. The fellow in the ice cream suit is Jessie Brown—he’s out on bond for murder. It appears he skipped bond. Curly had a warrant for him. These other white guys are also bondsmen who double up as bounty hunters, and the Black guys are cronies of Jessie. Looks like one helluva mess here,” concluded the officer.
“That’s putting it mildly. I ...”
Shannon interrupted the Captain. Pulling a piece of paper from his inside coat pocket, he read off six names.
“Yes, sir, that’s them,” answered the police officer.
“You know those fellows?” asked the Captain.
“Yes, sir,” answered Shannon.
The Chief of Police appeared before the Captain could fire off any more questions.
The Chief was a big, burly man of about sixty-four with balding gray hair. It was obvious he had been at home for he wore a pair of blue jeans overalls over a lumber jack shirt. He wore his police hat and his badge pinned to the left strap of his overalls. Because of the gathering crowd, he had to force his way past an angry mob threatening to erupt into a new round of rioting and violence In addition, the Chief had to contend with a throng of news reporters and camera persons.
He walked straight to the bar and spoke to Shannon. “General McMillan, I just received a call from The President. He wants you in Colorado now! Rodney, I want you to accompany him.”
The Chief turned suddenly looking around the club. He saw a champagne magnum behind the bar which he got then spit chewing tobacco into it.
The Chief then leaned across the bar and continued. This time he looked squarely at Rodney. “We can’t afford you around here. Dammit, you’ve killed more people tonight than I have in the twenty-five years I've been Police Chief.”
“But Chief,” complained Rodney.
“No ifs, ands and buts! You’re damn lucky I don’t have your ass hauled in or better yet, thrown to that crowd outside.”
The Chief looked across the room, which contained a plethora of crime scene search personnel, police officers and sheriff’s deputies and now military personnel and members of the coroner’s office. Spotting Sergeant Higgins, he called to him, “Sergeant Higgins, over here!”
“Yes, Sir,” reported Higgins.
“I want you to take -- -- The Chief spit once again. As he spoke, he continued to hold the magnum in his left hand and pointed with his right hand. -- -- General McMillan here and Rodney and slip out the window in the men’s room and go by Rodney’s house so he can pack a few things, then take them to the airport. Take no detours, no excuses and no shit. Do I make myself clear?”
Rodney started to reurge his protest but thought better of it. He joined Shannon – together they followed Sergeant Higgins through the packed disaster area to the bathroom and out the window and beyond. Along the way, Shannon filled Rodney in on their mission. It was only then that Rodney realized that he had not escaped the revolution. What he thought was peace now seemed the calm before the storm. For he was now headed for a direct confrontation with the Director’s assistant at the centre of an all encompassing storm or, as others might put it, at ground zero.
As he and Shannon left Memphis and headed toward Colorado, neither of them knew nor suspected that beyond the storm lay a disaster among the heavens.
. . .
Meanwhile, in a bunker two-plus miles beneath the earth’s surface at a place called NORAD, Colorado, the Doctor watched his patient take his last few breaths before passing from this world into the next.
He had done all he could do with limited supplies given that his patient refused to be taken to a hospital. As an emergency room doctor, he had seen many patients die before – one cannot work in a county medical facility without death and dying being constant companions. Yet, this particular patient, whom he had only come to know over the past few days, affected him in a way unmatched by any previous patient, including those whom he had known a lot longer and even those who were related to him.
Of course, Johnny Mark Diggs was no longer a staff member of the county hospital. In what was to him a devastating blow, he had been “placed on administrative leave” from the county hospital. With the revolution going on, many of the white patients and administrators felt endangered by the presence of Negroes who might sabotage the hospital and pose a threat to the “health and life of its white patients and staff,” as the hospital administrator put it.
Dr. Diggs felt particularly victimized by his dismissal since he not only had not participated in the revolution; he had not even considered doing so. His record was free of any hint of subversive activity. Nor could his discharge be sustained on guilt by association grounds -- he did not know any of the participants in the revolution.
Diggs responded by retaining a local civil rights attorney to get him a restraining order to keep the hospital from barring him from his work. Thus far he had only thrown good money after bad, as the saying goes. He was still waiting for a court date. The lawyer had promised one within three days, and that had been two weeks ago. And so on that day when he received a telephone call from his present patient telling him he was a close friend of the Doctor’s wife and needed his help, Diggs was more than eager to respond – that was, until he learned who was on the other end of the telephone. After all, if one is going to be hanged at sunrise, one ought to take full advantage of the reprieve since additional misdeeds can neither enlarge the noose nor prolong the agony. There is a self-fulfilling prophecy to injustice in that it brings about the very thing which did not exist prior to its “fingering” of the accused.
“Can’t you do anything to make him more comfortable?” pleaded Fredda Turner. She wiped the patient’s forehead with a moist cloth and rubbed his hairy cheeks.
The Doctor let go of his thoughts. He turned his attention to his patient. “No, I’m out of what medication I brought and what little I found in the ambulance. I’m surprised he’s held on this long. He’s determined to see this thing through.”
The Patient tried to speak but the words would not come; instead, only blood issued forth from his mouth. The Doctor moved over to him and knelt beside him where he lay on an Army cot. The Doctor took hold of his patient’s hand.
“Try not to speak. Everything’s going as planned. You gotta hold on for another 48 hours and we’ll have you out of here,” offered the Doctor. He took hold of the Patient’s right hand while Fredda held his left and continued to wipe his forehead.
“Why is he sweating so?” she asked.
“I’m not sure. Maybe he is trying to sweat out the great pain he’s in,” answered the Doctor. Again, the Patient tried again to speak. He opened his eyes for the first time in several days and tried again and again to speak, but each time only moans and blood escaped his lips. He moved his eyes between Fredda and Diggs and squeezed each of their hands then convulsed into a violent cough.
Fredda moved quickly to a nearby first aid kit from which she extracted some cloth and returned to wipe the Patient’s mouth as the Doctor elevated his head and massaged the Patient’s neck, chest and patted him lightly on his back. The coughing subsided.
“Shit, Doc, I thought he was a goner for sure,” exclaimed Fredda. She threw the cloths into a nearby trash can. She then wiped the Patient’s face with a damp towel which she picked up off the floor next to his cot.
Somewhat relaxed, the Patient took the Doctor’s pen from his shirt pocket and motioned for a piece of paper which Fredda tore from a notebook in which the Doctor had been scribbling and handed it to the Patient. The Doctor gave her a questioning look. Fredda realized her error and handed the Doctor the notebook which he held for the Patient who wrote on the paper, “Codes?”
“Yes, dawlin', I got 'em,” answered Fredda, who also knelt beside the Patient. Her smile dissipated and her demeanour grew tenser at the mentioning of the word “codes” which brought to mind the Director.
Fredda’s heart was torn asunder by the decision to kill only the second man in her life to ever treat her like she was somebody. The Director’s Assistant, now her patient, had been the first. She begged the group sent to get the codes to let the Director live. They could not come up with a suitable plan that would allow him to live and give them the time they needed to get to Colorado. And thus, she found herself torn between the two men she loved the most.
Yes, she loved them. It mattered not what they thought of her or how they felt about her. She loved them both with an unconditional, unwavering love that now pierced her heart and caused her to ache in the depths of her soul.
She felt like Rahab of the Scarlet Cord, who must have lamented the loss of her people even as she escaped to be with the invading Israelites. But unlike Rahab, Fredda would find no resting place among rebels. For this woman, torn between two lovers, there was no sunshine or future hope to eclipse the setting of her past. Thus she looked at her patient as the knife of pain dug deeper into her soul.
She did not understand what this rebel whom she loved so much hoped to achieve through his revolution. Yet, she could not resist admiring him for his efforts. At least he was doing more than just standing on the corner crying the blues as so many were doing in her home of Barbados and her adopted home of Chicago. Neither politician nor prophet, Fredda knew that violence was an ill tribute to Dr. King’s peace movement – a movement in which she believed. Further, she doubted violence could succeed in a nation such as America which has been built and sustained with violence and which had won every conflict fought on its soil. She smiled at this later thought for it was the Assistant who had taught her the history of America and yet she had reached a conclusion quite contrary to what he hoped to teach her. Thus it was that she worried and wondered and kept all these things to herself.
Fredda loved the Assistant in a special way – a way far different from how she loved the Director and which she could not quite explain – though she had tried. Oh, how she had tried to bring peace to her mind and calm her aching heart incited by her actions in bringing about the death of the man she loved and who loved her and cared for her so deeply.
How could you do such a thing? The question not only tortured her mind, it pierced her soul.
Fredda tried to remember the words of Ayn Rand in her book, “The Virtue of Selfishness,” which had such a profound impact on her when the Director gave it to her as a gift on the seventh day of their courtship. She struggled to recall the dichotomy between sacrifice and surrender in an attempt to take refuge under the concept of sacrifice. It was her understanding of the difference between sacrifice and surrender that had helped Fredda to reconcile herself with prostitution given the greater life and good she was able to do as a result of her work.
However, she could never articulate just what the “greater” good is she gave up the director to get. After all, she did not believe in the violent revolution of the Assistant and did not think it would achieve anything. Yet, she chose the Assistant over the director and in silence consented to the death of the man she loved. Hence, the question persisted and grew in intensity as did the pain it caused her.
Though she tried and tried, she could never answer the question and this inability led to the silence which engulfed and confounded her even now despite the urge within her to say something to this suffering man she loved so much and gave so much for. There are times in one’s life when the greatest act of love is silence. Fredda was silent; though silence exacerbated rather than ameliorated her pain.
“Uh-uhhhhhhhhh!” Fredda jumped at the groans of the Assistant. She returned to the cot and sat on the floor beside it opposite Doctor Diggs.
Again, the Assistant tried to speak but only air and blood issued forth. Fredda wiped away the blood. Groans and moans followed as the Assistant tried to sit up. He was restrained by the Doctor.
“Easy, easy,” cautioned the Doctor.
However, the Assistant began to struggle with all the might of one caught in the arms of death. He threw off the Army blanket which covered him and with a frail and stiff right hand tried to unbuckle his belt.
“Here, let me help you with that,” offered Fredda.
Doctor Diggs looked in astonished wonder at the dexterity of his bunker mate as she unbuckled and removed the belt, almost in one swift movement. In return, he got a “say it and die” look from Fredda.
She was about to toss the belt aside but the Assistant moaned and groaned and pointed at it.
“What is it, honey?” she asked. More moans and groans.
“Let me see that,” offered the Doctor. He took hold of the belt and examined it skilfully close, first on the outside then on its inside. It was on the inside of the black leather belt that he saw the thin slit which he forced open and from which he extracted a small folded piece of paper. This caused the Patient to settle down.
“What is it?” asked Fredda.
“I don’t know,” answered Diggs. He showed her the paper on which was printed five lines of cryptic text. He showed the paper to the Assistant.
“What the hell is this?” he asked.
The Assistant moved his eyes slowly over the five lines of cryptic writing. He motioned for a pen and paper which the Doctor handed him.
With great difficulty and amidst further groans and moans, the Assistant wrote, “Type in first three lines.”
Fredda and the Doctor exchanged looks of bewilderment. Doctor Diggs shifted his gaze toward his Patient.
“Will that fire the missiles?” The Doctor’s voice was shaken and barely audible.
The Assistant shook his head to indicate no. Fredda then moved over to the console which was just a few steps away and against the wall.
“Hold it! Just what the hell do you think you’re doing?” shouted Diggs.
“What I am told as you should do,” answered Fredda. She stopped in front of the console and sat down.
“How do we know those damn missiles won’t fire?” Diggs was now on his feet and moving toward Fredda.
“Because he said so. That’s good enough for me.”
“He said so? Hell, have you not heard death loves company? He’s dying. What’s to keep him from taking all of us with him? Hell, what grander death can one have but to take the whole damn world with you?”
The Doctor was now hysterical. The Patient moaned and groaned even more. No doubt, part of it had to do with his being ignored in the level of exchange of the present debate.
Fredda touched the keyboard and the console’s screen lit up. This caused the Doctor to rush to where she sat. He grabbed her right arm.
“Back off, man!” exclaimed Fredda.
Doctor Diggs was shocked to feel the knife against his throat. He did not see from where Fredda got it. However, the blade felt cold and deadening against his Adam’s apple. He took three steps back and despite his terror, tried a more gentle approach.
“Look Fredda, we don’t know what typing those codes will do. The Patient is in no condition to think rationally. Let’s wait and think this through.”
“We’ve come too far to turn back now,” argued Fredda. “There is a time for thinking and a time for action. Guess what time it is?” She returned to face the console and hurriedly typed in the first three lines of text.
A siren sounded. The three monitors over the console showed the silos in which the missiles were stored opening up and the missiles came forth.
“God, no!” shrieked Fredda. But was it too little too late?
In response to the ringing bell, the weary Wife rushed to the door of her home. She hoped it was her missing husband who perhaps had lost his keys. In great anticipation, she opened the door without peering through the spy glass as she held her breath.
Disappointment took hold of her as joy faded to sadness. Instead of her husband, standing on her porch were three young people: one white, one blonde, one Black. She stared at them several minutes before asking, “Yes?”
“Mrs. Diggs? Are you married to Johnny Mark Diggs?” asked the blonde. She was five feet nine inches tall and wore tight fitting, faded blue jeans with a light blue long sleeved blouse whose sleeves were rolled up about three-quarters of the way up tanned arms. Her natural blonde hair was bleached lavender; it was of medium length and in need of a perm – she wore it in no distinguishable style. Without make-up or jewellery, she was still good looking and looked younger than her twenty-three years.
“Who wants to know?” responded the Wife. She stood in the small opening of the door and impeded the progress of the three young adults who attempted to enter the house.
“Police officers, Ma'am,” retorted the blonde as she extracted a wallet from her back pocket which contained her police badge and handed it to the Wife. The two men did likewise. “I am Officer Cynthia Blundus. This is Officer Rodger White and Officer Johnny Black.”
“Yes, I am Pamela Diggs.” Pamela reviewed each of the badges with accompanying photos with the scrutiny of one who has encountered too many frauds in her life. She held each photo up in the air and glanced at its respective officer.
Officer White, twenty-five years of age, was the shortest of the three at five-feet-six with slim build. Despite the seventy degrees Chicago weather, he wore a navy blue Chicago Bears sweatshirt with the number forty over blue jeans. His hair was dark brown which he wore in a teased shaggy mop which descended into sideburns an inch below each ear lobe with matching moustache in need of trimming. He wore a gold chain around his neck.
As for Officer Black, at twenty-eight he was the oldest of the group and the tallest at six-one. He was of muscular build and wore dark blue bell bottom pants topped off with a light blue turtle neck with its long sleeves pulled up to the midway point on his arms. His black hair was combed nicely into a medium-sized Afro. Around his neck was a gold chain from which dangled a peace medallion.
“Like, can we come in?” asked Officer Black. Pamela still blocked entry to her home despite having viewed the officers’ badges which she now returned and watched the officers put them away. She forced a smile.
“What’s so funny?” White asked, placing his identification back into his rear pants pocket. The other officers aped him.
“Nothing, really. It’s just your photos look so unusual,” remarked Pamela as she fought to compose herself. Her laughter was magnified by a fly which buzzed around then disappeared into Black’s Afro.
Officer Black reached for his gun and retorted, “What you mean by that?” He was restrained by the other officers. Black stared at Pamela with admiration rather than disgust which calmed him. His fellow officers released their hold on him.
Black peered into Diggs' brown eyes which complimented her long brown hair that she wore combed to the back except for small bangs which dangled over her forehead in a teasing sort of way. In every sense of the phrase, Pamela was high yellow and naturally beautiful.
Officer Black measured her off at five-feet-seven, weighing about one-hundred and twenty pounds. She wore a very light blue Pierre Cardin mini shift dress which accentuated her shapely body and black stockings which eased into a pair of black thigh high boots.
Pamela Diggs ceased her laughter. She returned to her previous state of melancholy. Silence fell over the group of disenchanted souls as Pamela dropped her head, picked it up, then led the squad into her spacious living room where she directed them to a nearby black leather couch. Before sitting cross-ways from them in a matching love seat, she detoured over to her RCA Cunningham colour television, where The Mike Douglas Show was on, and turned the combination AM-FM radio, television, and record player off. She was quite proud of the fact that she was the first resident of her Groveland neighbourhood, on the south side of Chicago, to own one.
Once in her seat and at ease, she asked, “How can I help you officers?”
The officers surveyed the well appointed home. Officer Black spoke first, “Nice crib you have here, Mrs. Diggs. You must be real proud.”
“Yea,” added Officer White, “this is a long ways from Bronzeville.” He made reference to the neighbourhood where Pamela grew up. It was once the heart of the black middle class. However, the War on Poverty, America’s response to the Civil Rights era, brought economic stimulus to Blacks and opened up many other neighbourhoods – thus setting off a massive migration which left behind empty and dilapidated buildings and houses. Community blight, like the spider webs which envelop abandoned houses, had now set in.
Officer Blundus was more direct, “Do you know where your husband is?” Black and White gave her a questioning look.
Without hesitation, Pamela answered, “No, I don’t. Why?”
“When’d you see him last?” asked Blundus. After fumbling anxiously, she extracted a small notepad from her back pocket and a pen from her front pocket.
“Last Saturday morning. He was here when I left home. I haven’t seen him since. I miss him so. I’m afraid. What with all this stuff going on, it’s no telling what has happened to him. I miss my husband and I want him back. I...”
“Just the facts, Ma'am,” interrupted Officer White.
Officer Black took a handkerchief from his back pocket and handed it to Pamela who had burst into tears. Pamela brought the cloth to her face but recoiled when it passed her nose and handed it back to the officer. She got up and went to the bathroom, returning with a box of Kleenex which she placed on the marble topped coffee table in front of her, extracting two with which she wiped her eyes and blew her nose. The officers covered their ears to shield their drums from the onslaught.
“Mind if I smoke?” asked Officer White who spied a crystal cigarette lighter on the coffee table with matching crystal ash tray.
“Yes,” whispered Pamela. She crossed then uncrossed her legs and shifted her position but did not look at Officer White; instead, she tossed the tissues into the ash tray and extracted another one which she used to gently pat her eyes before returning to an upright position on the love seat.
“Haven’t heard from your husband since Wednesday? He hasn’t called you or anything?” asked Officer Blundus. This seemingly uncaring attitude of Pamela’s husband, given that it was now Monday, reinforced her own decision not to get married and kept her from any type of serious relationship.
Pamela’s tears flowed even more. Struggling for strength, she said in an excited voice, “It’s been since last Saturday that I heard from him. Why do you hurt me with confusion? I miss him so much!”
Officer Black rushed over, set on the right arm of the love seat, hugged the sobbing wife and tried to comfort her, “Here, here,” he counselled. “We’re just doing our job. C’mon get a grip.”
“What kind of vehicle does he drive?” fired Officer Blundus. She was not moved by what she termed the theatrics of Pamela. Officer Black gave her a stern look.
“Who?” Pamela retorted, pushing away the arm of Officer Black who got up and reclaimed his seat on the couch. Pamela sat up straight and brushed her hair with her hand as she gave Officer Blundus a deadly look.
“Your husband, who else?” shot back Blundus.
“A 1964 Cadillac Fleetwood,” answered Pamela who was now composed.
Officer Black, trying to de-escalate what was brewing into a cock fight, asked calmly, “Would you by any chance know the tag number?”
“Sure,” smiled Pamela, “It’s OPN WIDE.”
The squad looked at each other and said in unison, “Excuse us a minute.”
They huddled and talked as if the Wife was not present. Officer White spoke first, “Ma'am, we’ve concluded our interrogation of you which was intended to confirm what we already knew. Now, we want to shift to an interview format to get you to tell us what we don’t know. Do you understand?”
“No,” answered Pamela. She crossed, uncrossed, then crossed her legs.
“We’ll cut to the chase,” intoned Officer Blundus. “We found your husband’s car at Chicago General Hospital. It was parked where a missing ambulance had been. Later we found the ambulance at O’Hare Airport. Do you know where that ambulance went before it went to O’Hare?”
“No,” answered the bewildered Wife.
“Of course, you don’t,” continued Blundus. “The ambulance went to the apartment of the Assistant to the director of the CIA and picked him up.”
Officer Blundus paused and gave Pamela a long searching look. Officer White picked up the crystal cigarette lighter and stroked it – it did not light. He frowned and set it down.
Blundus continued, “We have been informed that you id’d the Assistant to the police. We have reason to believe that your husband lied about being from the coroner’s office and took the Assistant, who wasn’t dead after all, away from Chicago.”
“No, it can’t be!” exclaimed Pamela. “My husband barely knows the Assistant. He saw him a few times during college. He can never remember the guy’s name. He’s so bourgeoisie he would never involve himself in such an idiotic enterprise. You are mistaken.” The Wife was in hysterics.
“Well, you know the Assistant quite well, don’t you?” questioned Officer White. Officer Black sat at the edge of the couch. “In fact, the two of you are intimate friends, are you not?” White continued.
“We know each other, yes,” whispered Pamela as she buried her face in her hands.
The officers were stoic. Officer White withdrew his note pad and pointed to several entries as the other officers looked over his shoulder and nodded their heads in agreement. Realizing she was being ignored, Pamela soon settled down and continued, “I remember how bitter he was when they refused to allow him to return to the hospital. He hated the Assistant whom he blamed for what happened to him and his friends. He would never have helped that man!” Pamela’s voice was adamant. "You never know what a man might do,” opined Blundus. “Just when you think you know a guy, he comes out of a whole new bag. Still, we can’t argue with facts. Is this your husband?” Blundus handed her a photo which she received from White.
“Yes, it is. Where did you get it?”
“We got it from the crime scene photographer who took it of the doctor who removed the Assistant’s body.” Officer Blundus retrieved the photograph as she looked deeply into the eyes of Pamela. Her instincts told her that Pamela was not being completely honest and forthcoming. Blundus had also made note of several inconsistencies and outright lies in the Wife’s story.
“I just don’t understand this. This is all so crazy – so incomprehensible!” exclaimed Pamela. She launched into a new round of weeping and the gnashing of teeth.
“Please, please, please,” pleaded Blundus. James Brown flashed across her mind’s eye and inwardly, she heard him belting out his trademark song and then shook the image out of her head as she ran her hand through her lavender hair.
“Do you have any idea where your husband could have taken the Assistant?” asked Black in a calmer voice than Blundus was using.
“No,” answered Pamela is a hushed voice.
“Look, lady, your husband is in deep shit,” declared Officer White. “You’d better tell us what you know. Otherwise, we won’t be able to help him. We need to get to him before the Feds do.”
“I don’t know anything. I’m so confused, I need time to think.”
“Mrs. Diggs, listen to me and hear me good,” said Officer Blundus in a cool, calculating voice. “We don’t have time to play games. If we don’t find your husband before the Feds, you will never see him again, unless it’s at his funeral. Is that what you want?”
Officer Black walked over and sat on one of the arms of the love seat. He placed his arm around Pamela’s shoulder and whispered, “Look, we are trying to help you and your husband. Help us help you.”
The Wife fell into a most grievous wailing. Tears flowed from her eyes like the mighty Mississippi. Officer White tossed Black the box of Kleenex which he caught with his left hand and put in Pamela’s lap while extracting two which he used to wipe away her tears. He had to repeat this ritual several times.
Black pulled the Wife into his chest and let her cry freely. The other two officers watched in unsympathetic detachment. Black stroked Pamela’s hair and continued to whisper sweet niceties into her ear. Finally she gained her composure and sat up.
“Excuse me a minute. I am going to the restroom.” The officers watched Pamela as she strolled to a restroom opposite the living room and disappeared behind the door.
“What you think?” asked Officer White as Black rejoined him and Blundus on the couch. “Think she’s levelling with us?”
“Hell, no!” argued Blundus. “Here we have a woman married and living a middle class lifestyle and yet carrying on an affair with a known criminal. Then, she betrays the bastard who gets shot and her husband comes down to rescue him. Now both the fugitive and her husband are missing. Dammit, White, this lady is waist deep in shit trying to smell like a rose.”
Black was about to speak when he saw Pamela exit the restroom. He motioned for the other two officers to be quiet. Silence ensued as Pamela entered the room and reclaimed her seat. The plush carpet muffled her footsteps. Officer White was about to ask a question when the telephone rang.
Pamela reached over to a side table next to the love seat, picked up the receiver of the princess telephone, and answered it. “It’s for you,” she said as she offered the phone to Officer White who walked over and took hold of it.
“Yes, sir,” White said into the receiver. He looked at his partners as he listened intently. “You’re right. I see. OK. That sure clears up a lot of things. Okay. Yes, sir. We’ll get back to you on that. Yes, sir. Thank you, sir. Roger that. Over and out.”
“What’s up?” asked Blundus as White hung up the telephone and returned to the couch but did not sit down. Blundus and Black joined him in standing.
“The Captain. There have been some new developments.”
“Like what? Is it about my husband?” shouted the Wife. She too stood up.
“We’ll get to that in a minute. First, I need to ask you a few more questions,” answered White.
“Please,” pleaded Pamela, “I got to know. Have you heard something about my husband?”
“Yes, White; cut the mystery shit and get to the point!” demanded Blundus.
“Yea, White,” added Black, “Why put this young lady through any more suffering? Tell us what you know.”
“All in due time,” said White. “All in due time. Tell me, Mrs. Diggs, what do you think about this so-called revolution?”
“What? What kind of question is that?” fired Pamela as distress took hold of her. “What does that have to do with anything?” She felt weakness in her legs and so she sat down on the couch.
White gave her a searching look. He sat on the edge of the couch next to Pamela much like a hunter who has cornered his prey and said, “It has a lot to do with things. What’s the matter, do you have something to hide?”
This last question came as a surprise to all of the listeners. Black and Blundus gave White a penetrating look as if to ask, “What in the hell is your trip?”
Pamela buried her face into her hands and then convulsed over into her lap. She made a writhing sound; her body shook as if she was doing some African ritual dance.
“Get her a glass of water,” Black ordered White. White got up and went to the kitchen. He returned with a glass of water which he offered to the distressed Wife. She drank the water and soon composure returned.
The three officers huddled among themselves. They whispered softly while they awaited Pamela’s calming down.
Officer White broke the silence. “Look, Wife, we can do this the easy way or we can go Downtown and do it the hard way. You can cooperate with us and we can work this thing out together or you can keep playing hard ball, and we’ll continue to waste the precious time we don’t have and get nowhere. Which will it be?”
“I’m trying to help,” pleaded Pamela. She ran her fingers through her hair and dried her eyes with Kleenex tissues. “I want to find my husband. I’ve told you all I know.”
The Wife batted her eyelids. Her eyes glistened then darkened as her lips curved into a smile.
“Then why won’t you answer my question?” White continued. “What do you think of what the Assistant is doing?”
The Wife sat up straight. She looked at Blundus, then Black, then White. She wondered whether these officers were setting a trap for her. Yet, how could they? She had told the truth in her mind and had nothing to hide. Her only concern was finding out where her husband was and insuring he was okay.
She composed herself anew and said, “I think the so-called revolution is a bunch of shit. I mean, the Assistant never asked me or any other Black whether we wanted to be involved in a revolution. He, like so many other Negro leaders, took it upon himself to do what he thought was best for us. I’m sick and tired of living like that.
“Everybody thinks they know what is best for us. Hell, as Dr. Anna Julia Cooper has said so eloquently, ‘I just want to live my own life, in my own world, with my own chosen companions, in whatever comfort, luxury, or emoluments my talents and money can secure in an impartial marketplace.’”
“Why do you think I turned the Assistant in to the police? I didn’t like what he was doing. I’ve worked too hard to get to where I am, and I'm not going to let some idiot with pie-in-the-sky delusions ruin it! All I want is to be left alone. I don’t want my race to be a door or a key. I don’t want special treatment. I don’t want to be a quota. I just want to sail as high as my wings will take me or walk whatever path I choose. I just want to be me!”
“Right on, Sister!” shouted Black who raised a clenched fist to the ceiling. Blundus and White gave him penetrating and accusing looks.
“Sorry ‘bout that. Guess I got caught up in the rhetoric,” he said sheepishly. Notwithstanding his confession, Black joined the Wife who was now standing and shouting to the top of her voice. He hugged her and she hugged him and they hugged each other.
Blundus cleared her throat and this caused Black and Pamela to release each other. The three officers looked one to the other. They were impressed. They were convinced. Despite their earlier misgivings about her truthfulness, Pamela’s speech struck a chord with them which enabled the officers to recall that it was Pamela’s actions that had led to the discovery of papers identifying most of the leaders of the revolution. Many of them had been either arrested or killed. The others were forced underground by posters of them being circulated throughout the country.
“Okay, Mrs. Diggs,” said White. “We’re convinced you’re on the up and up. Go pack a suitcase. You’re coming with us.”
“With us, where?” asked a startled Black. Blundus echoed his question. So did Pamela.
“Okay, here’s the deal,” explained White. He looked at each of the persons in the room as he spoke. “Mrs. Diggs, we have every reason to believe that your husband and the Assistant are holed up at NORAD headquarters in Colorado. The Assistant killed one of our officers and we want his ass before the Feds can get to him. We want you to go to Colorado with us and try to talk your husband into surrendering the Assistant to us. We know the Assistant has been seriously wounded and may be dying. Your husband is keeping him alive.”
“What is NORAD?” asked Blundus.
“Some kind of military base. The Captain said he’ll fill us in when we report back,” answered White. “Okay, Mrs. Diggs, you get packed and we’ll be back to pick you up. You should take enough things for three days. And remember, this is your very last chance to see your husband alive and help us save him. Tell absolutely no one where you are going.”
“Yes, thank you very much. I will be ready. I’m just so happy to hear that my husband is alive,” said the Wife. She jumped up from the couch and gave each of the officers a big hug and escorted them to the door where she gave them another hug as she said goodbye. Having just completed a tumultuous ride on the roller coaster of anxiety, for the first time in over a week Pamela found reason to smile. Hope swelled within her. She felt refreshed as the breezy Chicago afternoon stroked her for several minutes until she closed the door and rushed to her bedroom to pack. She knew not what lay ahead of her on this strange yet exciting journey. However, she hoped that at the end of the journey she would see and be with her husband. How she hoped!
Hope is easy when we lack sufficient knowledge of the circumstances in which we find ourselves. We may hope so long as we see tomorrow even if it be through a glass darkly. The Wife prepared to meet her tomorrow with hope beating wildly in her breast like the drum play of Buddy Rich. She did not know that her husband was teetering on the brink of disaster among the heavens. Because she did not know, she was eager, even anxious to go!
. . .
Fredda thought the Assistant had lied to her. She was relieved when the missiles stopped once their noses were above ground.
Doctor Diggs helped the Assistant sit up where he could view the monitors. This helped him for a wry smile covered his face. He brought his hand up to his mouth signalling he wanted water.
Fredda read the sign well. She handed Diggs a canteen which the Doctor held to the Assistant’s mouth and watched as the Assistant sucked in a small amount. The Assistant swished the water around in his mouth and spit it out on the floor. Diggs frowned. He gave both the Assistant and Fredda a damning look.
Gingerly, Diggs gave the Assistant more water and this time the Assistant made a gurgling sound and spit the water on the floor. Diggs gave him more water which the patient swallowed. Fredda took that as her cue to clean the water mixed with blood and saliva from the floor which she did using an Army blanket.
With great difficulty, and in staccato phrases, the Assistant forced himself to say, “Listen to me. This place is equipped for ninety days. You can survive the nuclear winter here.
“We have won! We have won!” With those words, the Assistant’s head fell backwards.
Doctor Diggs laid him down again. He and Fredda were confused by the Assistant’s comments. They had not fully appreciated their position and what they were doing. Neither of them was aware of the sophisticated weaponry at NORAD. A strange feeling overcame them. They did not understand that disaster now lurked just two typed lines away. Their thoughts were invaded by the Assistant who tried again to speak but could not. He grabbed the pen and paper and wrote again.
“Fire missiles now,” Diggs and Fredda looked at each other intensely. They spoke not a word, yet they understood one another. Both wondered if they should tell the Assistant that they had altered his plans. Without speaking a word, in unison they questioned whether they should tell the Assistant that they were not as eager as he was to destroy America and with it possibly the earth and the heavens. Yes, there were injustices in the world. However, life was still worth living.
How could they tell this rebel on the edge of death that out of the nihilism of his revolution they had found a way to give meaning and purpose to the property and lives that had been destroyed? Out of his mess of chaos they had constructed a hope in a Great Society. They envisioned a way by which America could emerge Phoenix-like from the ashes of destruction and become a newer and grander land. How could they tell their dying comrade? They could not. And so they stared into each other’s eyes looking for an answer that would never come.
The Assistant’s body shook. He made a gurgling sound. Blood began to ooze from his lips. Fredda picked up a nearby towel and wiped it away. This fragile but determined patient tried to speak but only blood and air escaped his lips. His eyes flickered then closed. His breathing got shorter and shorter and then faint and more faint. Fredda and Diggs could do no more than watch. Within seconds, the Assistant gave up the ghost. His burst of excitement had robbed him of his strength, and he had none left with which to sustain life. He was so eager to kill that he lost the strength to live and now the Assistant was no more.
Tears fell from the eyes of both doctor and nurse. They folded the patient’s arms across his chest and then the Doctor stood up. After Fredda kissed the deceased on the forehead, she followed. In the space of a few days she had lost the only two stars in her life’s universe. Her world had suddenly gone nova. She had hardly completed her upward movement before she fell into the arms of the Doctor and broke into tears.
She cried not just for the deceased, but for the revolution he had started, the uncertainty of tomorrow, the pain of her own life and quite frankly, the mess she’d gotten herself into. Excitement had turned into calamity. The quest for life had become a requiem for death. What a disparity she suffered between what she envisioned and what she achieved.
Thus it was that she cried not only for the assistant and herself, she also cried for the director -- he too was no more. Her life could not have been a movie, for when have the heroes died so early in a film?
“You must have really loved him,” said Diggs holding Fredda tightly in his arms. She wetted his shirt with her tears.
Without warning and without any preliminaries, Fredda moved her face from Diggs’ shoulder to his face, and their lips locked in hungry passion. They tore at each other’s clothes and kicked off their shoes as they fell to the floor to a makeshift bed next to their once patient, and with all of their strength and more, they tried to douse the flames which burned within them by pouring their essences into each other.
Their bodies trembled and quaked. They shed all of their clothes and with them those things which separated them. They were no longer doctor and nurse, fellow revolutionaries, weeping, bereaved. They cried internally and externally. They groaned and moaned and made all the sounds of ecstasy as they struggled for release of their pent up emotions, their frustrations, their weariness, their oppression, their being cast adrift in the sea of life without sail or oar--all these things and more they sought to exhale from their bodies--their psyches.
Then it happened – their bodies erupted. All their inner feelings were condensed to fluids that gushed from their bodies like a Texas wildcatter and clashed one to the other and then overflowed to the floor. However, no armies would emerge from these juices.
The two lovers now lay locked in each other’s arms. They began to slip into that darkness that envelops those who have just passed through the storm of passion. Their country was in peril. Their hopes danced on the edge of the abyss. Their own futures--their very lives, were uncertain. All these things they blanked out of their minds as they held each other so tightly that they became as one.
They neither knew nor cared whether those outside would attempt to penetrate their subterranean fortress under cover of night. They slipped into darkness and left the ‘morrow to that Infinite Power who controls the sands of time. Consider all the disasters from earth’s great quakes – none can match the energy expended that bodies locked in passion makes!
. . .
The President sat behind his desk in the Oval Office reading a report that had just come over the telex machine from Shannon McMillan. He was distressed by the report which contained the sordid details of the mishap in Memphis. Twice now The President had formulated plans for the capture of the assistant and both times disaster had resulted with no appreciable gains. What The President had hoped would be a day of beginning had become another blue Monday.
“Mr. President, you’ve got to see this!” exclaimed the Chief of Staff who rushed into the Oval Office and turned on a nearby television set.
The President shifted his attention to the television where a news reporter was reporting from Moscow that the Soviet military was on full alert and that 20 Russian Migs had been launched en route to America.
“Turn that up some,” commanded The President, as if greater volume would erase the incredulity with which he received the news. He leaned across his desk.
The Chief of Staff complied. The President was about to speak further when the red telephone on his credenza rang. He swivelled his chair around and picked up the receiver.
“Mr. Premier, what seems to be the problem?” answered The President.
“Our MIGS are headed your way. We are preparing to launch our own missiles,” said the Premier in a gruff voice.
“Hold on, Mr. Premier,” shouted The President. He held the telephone with his right hand. He waved his left hand in the air. Realizing he was shouting, he moderated his voice and continued. “What the hell is going on? I’m watching a report on television saying your military is on alert and all hell is breaking loose!”
“Same question I want to ask you, Mr. President.” The Premier’s voice was calm and calculating. Such coolness irritated The President more.
“Mr. Premier, I am sorry, but I have no idea what you’re talking about.” The Chief of Staff walked over and turned off the television then stood next to the credenza.
“Come now, Mr. President,” responded the Premier. The President heard muffled laugher in the background. It was clear he was on a speaker phone.
“You’re wasting valuable time,” continued the Premier. “Are you trying to stall me so you can launch your missiles?”
“Missiles? What missiles?” shouted The President.
Hearing the word, missiles, the Chief of Staff left the room in a hurry and returned just as quickly, handing The President a folder which he opened and saw a photo of the open silos at NORAD. The President glanced quickly over the next two pages of information. Damn, he thought to himself, can things get any worse?
“Mr. President, are you there?”
“Ah, yes, sorry.” It was now clear to The President what the Premier was talking about. He nodded to his Chief of Staff and closed the folder.
“Mr. Premier,” continued The President, “I’ve always appreciated our open and frank discussions. Sir, I assure you I know not of what you speak. Do you care to enlighten me?”
He covered the mouth piece of the receiver and whispered to his Chief of Staff, “Get my crisis team in here now!” The President also reached under his desk and turned off the telephone and room taping devices. He did not want a record of what was about to transpire.
Neither his presidential library, nor posterity, nor his post-presidential memoirs were important enough to warrant the potential danger of having the ensuing matters recorded and later leaked to the public. He had always subscribed to the principle that there are some things that must remain undisclosed. Unfortunately for The President, but fortunately for later generations, history always finds a way to be historical and to burst out of darkness into the sunshine of day as happened with the inadvertent release of Appendix A.
“Come now, Mr. President,” the Premier chastised, “we happen to know that your missile silos in Colorado have been opened in preparation for launch. We are prepared to counteract those missiles.”
“Mr. Premier, I assure you there is no plan under way here to launch any missiles. Hold on a minute, please, Sir.”
About that time the Secretary of Defence and the General of the Air Force came into the Oval Office. The Secretary of Defence spoke first as The President pushed the mute button on the telephone. “Mr. President, a pilot in a SR-71 Blackbird just confirmed that the missile silos at NORAD have been opened. The noses of the missiles are at the ready mark. Sir, it looks critical.”
“Mr. Premier,” The President said into the receiver after releasing the mute button, “I’m just receiving a report that this is an internal matter. Sir, I assure you we represent no threat to your sovereignty. If you will recall your fighters and stand down, I will have the Vice President deliver to you a personal explanation. Please, Mr. Premier, I give you my word this is purely an internal matter.” The President spoke in a rushed but humble manner. Humility is the oil which makes diplomatic wheels turn and turn smoothly.
He pleaded with the Soviet Premier; although he had long thought himself too proud to beg. However, on this evening, the fate of a nation, if not the world, was at stake.
The Assistant, in opening the silos, threatened not only America, he threatened the entire world. He also had the two most powerful nations in the world playing Russian roulette with an arsenal of mutually assured destruction.
Nevertheless, The President sought to manoeuvre through this crisis without revealing the fact that the United States had perfected missiles capable of hitting targets in outer space contrary to existing treaty prohibitions. He listened for assurances that he had reached the Premier. For a few minutes silence was the only reply.
“Excuse me, Mr. Premier, I have another critical call,” interrupted The President as the Premier was about to speak. He picked up the blue telephone and heard the voice of the British Prime Minister.
“I assure you, Mr. Prime Minister; I am just as surprised as you are. But this is a purely internal matter. The Secretary of State is leaving within the hour with a personal message for you which will explain what is happening. Trust me, Mr. Prime Minister, we are not on the brink of a world war. Mr. Prime Minister, can I count on you to keep this matter under wraps? It is absolutely critical that this information not be disseminated. Thank you, Sir, I appreciate your deference. We can and we will do this. Good bye, Mr. Prime Minister.”
The President extracted a nicely pressed and perfumed handkerchief from his inside breast pocket and wiped his forehead. He glanced at his Chief of Staff who gave him thumbs up, then picked up the red telephone and continued, “Mr. Premier, that was the Prime Minister. He sends his regards.”
“Mr. President, I have recalled my MIGS. I will maintain my forces at full alert until I hear from your Vice President. I expect to see him first thing in the morning,” said the Premier.
“He will be there,” responded The President in a tone of relief. “Thank you, Mr. Premier. One last thing, Sir. Can I count on you to keep this matter under wraps? I mean, can I trust you not to let it get out of your office? Thank you, very much. Mr. Premier, we can and we must do this. Good night, Sir.” The President hung up the telephone and let out a long, loud sigh of relief. Those in the room responded with applause.
He was relieved that despite the unpopularity of the war that he was waging in Southeast Asia, his reputation for truthfulness remained intact. World leaders had no reason to doubt him. This was a critical factor in an increasing age of weapons of mass destruction and in view of Hitler’s assurances during World War II that he would not invade a nation only to do so when the people least expected it. In this present climate of world unease, it remained critical that The President safeguard his reputation for truthfulness; especially since the Soviet Union and the United States were travelling a road of mutually assured destruction. If the Premier could not believe The President, then his only recourse was to act. Fortunately, for both the world and the heavens, the Pentagon Papers had not yet been released, and so The President enjoyed a reputation of truthfulness, at least in the minds of foreign leaders.
“Gentlemen, please. Can I have some quiet?” shouted The President after he hung up the telephone and turned around in his chair to look across his desk. The room was now filled with men who now formed a semi circle around The President’s desk.
“Mr. Vice President, I want you to leave now for Moscow. You will receive a message for the Premier along the way,” fired The President.
“Mr. Secretary of State, I want you to head for England. You will likewise receive a message for the Prime Minister along the way.”
“But Mr. President,” protested the Vice President who moved closer to where The President sat. “Shouldn’t I be here at a time like this? Can’t we send someone else to Moscow? What if you have to call the Senate into session?”
“No, sir,” responded The President turning slightly to the left to face the Vice President. “The Premier is expecting you. and I have no one else for the job. I suggest you get moving. We can do this and we must,” ordered The President who was making a special effort not to appear too harsh on the Vice President – a man who was very insecure in his position and harboured paranoid feelings that The President had little, if any, use for him.
The Vice President started to re-urge his protest but he saw in The President’s face a certain kind of resolve, which once he got it, it was as firm as the Rock of Gibraltar. He left the room saddened and thinking that The President was purposefully getting rid of him. However, he did not want to risk getting The Treatment in the presence of so many men whose loyalty and respect he needed. Unwilling though he was, he marched quickly to his office, and then his home where he packed and left to do The President’s bidding.
As the Vice President exited, the room burst into loud and undirected discussions. Bewilderment and a need to know spurred all of the attendants, to question one another. All, that is, except for The President and his Chief of Staff.
“Gentlemen, please,” shouted The President.
Once the room returned to quiet, The President looked at his Chief of Staff and said hurriedly, “Mr. Chief of Staff, get me the Speaker of the House on the telephone.” The Chief of Staff picked up the black telephone and ordered the operator to get him the Speaker of the House. He then hung up the phone.
“Does anyone have an idea as to why those silos are open?” asked The President.
“My best guess, Mr. President,” It was the General of the Air Force who spoke first. “The assistant figured we might try to lock them to prevent his launching the missiles. He seems to be always a step ahead of us, which is why I continue to believe he has some foreign assistance.”
“Are we certain none of them have been launched?” The President asked.
“Yes, sir. We have confirmation none have been,” answered the Air Force General.
“Tell me, General, can the SR-71 knock out a missile if it is launched?” queried The President.
“Generally, yes, Mr. President, but this particular model is strictly reconnaissance. It has no weaponry. We must remember, Mr. President, those missiles at NORAD are equipped with nuclear warheads. You detonate one of those things in American airspace and you might as well kiss this country goodbye. Life as we know it will cease,” cautioned the General who now leaned over The President’s desk.
“General, we need a plan. Do we have an aircraft that can hit those missiles in such a way as to have them explode in space?”
“That’s a scenario we’ve never faced, sir,” answered the General.
“Dammit, General,” shouted The President, causing the Air Force General to stand erect, “we’re facing it today! Do we have such a plane?” The President pounded his fists on his desk, knocking the room into dead silence.
The Air Force General realized he was getting The Treatment and tried to de-escalate the situation, “We have the Phantom F-4. It can reach a height of 62,000 feet and then launch its four AIM-9 Sidewinder infrared missiles. We have no data on what the fallout will be. We don’t know if the nuclear storm will fall back to earth.”
“Mr. President,” interrupted the Chairman of the Joint Chiefs of Staff, “all of our planning has been to develop ways to intercept and destroy Russian missiles, not our own. We have contingency plans to even intercept an asteroid or other space-bound object but nothing as to our own missiles.”
“We can do this,” said The President. He ignored the comments of the Chairman and continued to face and to speak to the Air Force General, “We’ll have to take our chances. I want you to draft a plan and place your best men and aircraft on standby. Not a word to anyone about what is going on. And that goes for the rest of you here.” The President looked around the room and looked each man in the eyes. He stood up and walked over to a nearby window and looked out.
“Yes, Mr. President. I pray we never have to implement such a plan,” said the Air Force General. He walked over to join The President at the window and the two men returned to a more subdued conversation as the noise level of the room increased.
“Now, General, can we get in touch with the Assistant?”
“Yes, sir, we have both radio and telephone communication.”
“Good. I want you to contact him and confirm that he is not going to launch those missiles until after our 48 hours are up. See if you can get us a few more days.”
“Yes, sir,” responded the Air Force General, maintaining the hushed tone of The President. “I’ll get on it right now.” The Air Force General started towards the exit door.
“General,” called The President in a louder voice which was heard though not understood by all those in the Oval Office, “keep that Blackbird in the air. Remember, this is top secret. You report directly to me. We can do this. We must do this!” The President turned away from the window and now faced the crowd again.
“Yes Sir, Mr. President,” said the Air Force General as he exited the Oval Office.
“Mr. President, Mr. President!” several of those present tried to get the attention of The President. It was the Chief of Staff who succeeded.
“I have the Speaker on the line, Mr. President.”
“Good,” said The President as he walked over to his credenza and accepted the telephone from the Chief of Staff. He raised his free hand to motion for silence.
“Hello, Mr. Speaker, sorry to disturb you during your summer recess, but we have a crisis here. Listen, I’m sending a helicopter over for you in about an hour. I want you dressed and packed. I need you here at the Capitol. I may have to call the Congress into special session.”
While The President talked on the telephone, a commotion erupted at the door leading from the Oval Office. A group of reporters were trying to get in to see The President and the men in the room were trying to keep the door closed until a military detachment could arrive to take control of the matter.
“Okay, Mr. Speaker, we can do this. I’ll have a personal message with more details delivered to you in flight. Have a pleasant trip. Goodbye and Godspeed.”
The President hung up the telephone and turned his attention to his Press Secretary who entered the room and ran to his desk, gasping for breath.
“Mr. President, we have to tell the Press something. All hell has broken loose!” shouted the Press Secretary. He gasped for breath between words.
“Calm down before you give me a heart attack,” said The President in a jovial way. He smiled for the first time since the commotion started and continued, “Assemble them in the East room. I’ll be there in a few minutes,” he concluded.
“What can they expect, Mr. President?”
“That I will issue a statement. That’s all they or you need to know at this time.”
“Mr. President, are we going to war?” persisted the Press Secretary. “Are we about to launch nuclear missiles?”
“All in good time, Mr. Press Secretary. Calm down, we can do this. If you display anxiety, then the Press will be anxious. If the Press is anxious, so will be the American people. And we cannot have that, can we? Now, get that conference ready.”
“Yes, sir. Oh, Mr. President,” continued the Press Secretary risking The Treatment. “The FBI Director called and wants to meet with you. Shall I ask your Chief of Staff to set it up?”
The Press Secretary saw the deadly look on The President’s face at the mentioning of the FBI Director. He remembered that was one acronym whose use was forbidden in the presence of The President who hated the man with a deep and ever growing passion. Without waiting for an answer, the Press Secretary hurried from the room. Again, some of the men present had to forcefully keep members of the Press Corps from breaking into the room. They locked the door behind the Press Secretary.
“Mr. Secretary of State, I’m surprised you’re still here,” observed The President as he noticed the Secretary of State had not left for his trip.
“The Prime Minister is expecting you right away.”
Either not sensing the urgency of the matter or suffering from temporary cognitive slippage, the Secretary of State was admiring the Frederick Remington painting next to the fireplace where he stood. It was the famous work, “A Dash for Timber,” on loan from the South-western Museum of Art. The President had the painting hung where the portrait of George Washington had once hung over the mantle.
The Secretary of State now shifted his attention to The President. He rubbed his right hand over his receding hairline as he inched his way toward where The President sat at his desk.
“Mr. President, Sir, I urge you to reconsider,” whispered the Secretary of State.
“My daughter is enrolling in college tomorrow and I plan to accompany her. Sir, this is a once in a lifetime experience.” He tried desperately to persuade The President of the urgency of his situation without the others in the room hearing what he had to say.
“Mr. Secretary,” counselled The President, standing up and moving toward the Secretary where he placed his right hand on the Secretary’s left shoulder, “I sympathize with your position. But unless you get to England, there may not be a college for your daughter to attend. These difficult times demand that those of us who are the guardians of America make difficult sacrifices. Today, we must be leaders not fathers. Or, rather we must be fathers of all the world’s children and not just our own,” corrected The President.
Like a grandfather, he looked long and lovingly into the Secretary’s eyes without revealing the contempt he felt for this man being so selfish at a time when his country needed him desperately. “I’m sorry, but you have to go to London. It’s up to you whether or not you take your family along.”
The Secretary of State was about to raise additional points until he saw The President reclaim his seat and give his attention to two generals who were pointing to something on a map. He knew that any further efforts to dissuade The President would be futile; and, realizing that he had just received a milder form of The Treatment, did not wish to risk the stronger version.
Dejected, knowing that he would not be able to take his family with him, he made his way slowly out of the room en route to his home and then on to Europe. As critical as his role as father was to him, he knew that even his resignation would have no impact on The President’s decision. The President would merely fail to accept the resignation until he completed his assigned task.
“Mr. Chief of Staff,” called The President to the Chief of Staff who was standing near the exit door talking to the Secretary of the Army, “get me a secretary in here. One who can type.” He did this without making any allowances to the Generals who were talking to him.
“Yes, sir, Mr. President.” The Chief of Staff rushed out of the room and returned just as quickly with a young lady carrying a shorthand notebook and a pen. He then walked over to where The President sat and pulled up a chair next to his desk for the secretary to sit.
As soon as the secretary sat down, The President turned to his Chief of Staff and said, “I want you to get in touch with Dr. King. Tell him I want him and his family to accompany the First Lady on a tour of Africa. Be persistent and don’t take no for an answer. He’ll be leaving tomorrow. I am sending an airplane to pick them up.”
“Africa?” asked the Chief of Staff. “What on earth for, Mr. President?”
“We need to show the world we are carrying on business as usual. We don’t want to throw everybody into a panic. I don’t know what that damn Assistant might do. If he explodes one of those missiles, I want as many of our leaders as far away from here as possible. Mr. Chief of Staff, you and I are saving a nation. We can do this. We must do this. Can I count on you?” The President placed his right hand on the Chief of Staff’s shoulder. He tried to hide the weariness that had overtaken him.
“Yes, Mr. President.”
“Good. Once you’ve talked to Dr. King, arrange someone to pick him up and then notify the First Lady’s staff so they can have her ready. I want them out of here as early as possible in the morning. You and your staff can put together an itinerary. Keep them in Africa for at least a week. One more thing, once the First Lady is airborne; I want you to personally find out for me how England and the Soviet Union knew that our missile silos were open, and more importantly, how the hell the Press knew.”
“Yes, Mr. President. Do you need my assistance for the Press conference?”
“No, one thing you learn early in politics. That’s how to talk to the Press without telling them anything. Okay, you go to work. I can do this. I must do it.”
“Yes, Sir, I’m on it.” The Chief of Staff dashed from the room.
“Mr. President, Mr. President!” Several more of those present tried to get The President’s attention as the Chief of Staff left the room. The President ignored them. He focused his attention on the telephone on his desk that was ringing.
“Hel-lo,” The President answered in his deep Texas drawl.
“Mr. President, this is the General of the Air Force. Sir, we have confirmed with the assistant that the missiles will not be launched until the 48 hours have expired. He would not agree to any type of an extension. Not even for one minute! I could not get him to say anything else other than he wants you to add females to his request.”
“Yes, Mr. President. He wants provisions made for females as well as Negroes. He said that Negro women are twice oppressed.”
“Females? How the hell can I do anything for Negro females without including all females?” The President’s voice grew in intensity.
“Sir, I’m sorry for the bad news. I tried to dissuade him. He would not bulge. In fact, he was downright persistent.”
“We have got to get that bastard outta NORAD before he turns our country into a damn jungle,” said The President. He wiped his forehead with the back of his hand.
“Mr. President, we are doing all that we can to remove him. Don’t worry, sir. We can do this. We’ll get him.”
“Okay, thank you, General. Keep that bird in the air and let me know if there are any further developments. In fact, General, I’d feel much better if you were at NORAD. I don’t want some foolhardy idiot making a decision that gets us blown to hell.”
“Yes, Mr. President. I’ll leave first thing in the morning.”
“General, there may not be a morning. I want you out there now!”
“Yes, sir, Mr. President. I’m on the way.”
“Thank you, General. I knew I could count on you. We can do this. We must do this.”
“Okay, gentlemen, listen up,” said The President after he hung up the telephone.
“Oh, pardon me, gentlemen, as you were,” corrected The President when he noticed the presence of the secretary with notepad. He had forgotten about her in the constant shifting activities.
“Howdy, Ma'am, hope we don’t disturb too much of your beauty sleep," joked The President, realizing that the day had evaporated into night.
“No problem, Mr. President,” the secretary responded.
“Good. I want you to prepare a letter for my signature which I want distributed to all of our embassies by the most expeditious means. Dear Ambassadors -- -- excuse me.”
The President stood up and said, “Gentlemen, please clear out this room. I will be addressing the Press in a few minutes. If you want to be present, I suggest you meet me in the East Room.”
Those in the room started exiting. Two Marines entered to say that a detachment was on the scene and order had been restored. The President stopped the Secretary of Defence and the General of the Army.
“Gentlemen, I want you to go to all of our bases in the Philippines, Okinawa, Japan, and Vietnam. I want you to plan your trip so that it takes at least a week. I want you to tell our people and particularly our troops, that all is well at home. America is alive and well. I want you to impress upon our troops in Vietnam to keep fighting. Tell them their President is very proud of them. You will get dispatches from me from time to time. You are to take orders from me only. Do I make myself clear?”
“Yes sir, Mr. President,” The two said in unison.
“You can prepare a memo for my signature to the Pentagon and the Secretary of the Army.”
“Will do, Mr. President,” responded the Secretary of Defence.
Soon, the room was empty except for The President and the secretary.
“Okay, let’s continue,” said The President as he reclaimed his seat and turned to face the secretary.
“Attention, Ambassadors, no doubt you have concerns about the state of affairs at home. I assure you that all is well here. America is alive and well. There have been sporadic outbreaks of civil violence but those have been brought under control. You need not be alarmed about the recent decision by the Soviets to place their military forces at the highest state of alert.
“The Vice President is on his way to Moscow to help resolve matters there. I am counting on you to keep the American flag flying high in your respective territory. I want you to make the presence of America felt by the local government and people. For the next week, throw parties and have dinners like you’ve never done before. Have these not just for heads of state, have some for the common people as well. We can do this. We must do this. God bless each and every one of you and God bless America.”
“That’s great, Mr. President. It made my heart pound.”
“Thank you,” smiled The President. “That’s it for now. Again, sorry for keeping you so late. You should call your family so they don’t worry. We can do this.
“That’s okay,” remarked the secretary who was moved at being spoken to directly by The President. She had worked at the White House for over three years and this is the first time anyone above the rank of low level supervisor had spoken directly to her.
“May I ask a question, Sir?”
“Sure, just keep it short; I have a press conference to attend.”
“Mr. President, I noticed how you managed those Generals and other men here tonight. They must have a lot of respect for you. How do you manage that?” asked the secretary as she gathered her things.
The President stood up. A smile broadened his face. “Don’t fool yourself, sweetheart. Those men don’t give a shit about me. No, it’s the Office of President that they respect and obey. That is why whoever occupies this office must have the utmost personal integrity. When The President speaks, people ought to listen and they ought to obey without question. They can do so only if they respect the man who wears that title.”
“People should be able to believe their President. When The President asks someone to do something, the power and prestige of the office should compel that person to say yes. You see, madam, this office is the highest symbol of a free people.”
The President started toward the door. He paused before opening it to gather his strength so that he would not appear slumped by the matters that now weighted him down.
“Thank you, Sir. It is truly an honour to work for you,” called out the secretary, who also stood and followed The President out of the Oval Office.
“I hope you feel that way in 48 hours,” said The President as he exited the room.
The secretary did not understand this last comment. For a moment, her smile faded into a frown. She felt both good and troubled as she left the Oval Office and entered the corridor leading to the typing pool. She got a glimpse of The President as he entered the East Room. Seeing this leader of the free world walk so uprightly and powerful, gave her comfort in accepting the things she did not understand. She went to her task smiling in gratitude for her opportunity to work for so great a man.
As for The President, he felt neither great nor powerful as he entered the East Room and waited for the Press Secretary to present him. He had no idea what he was going to say; though it was clear to him that he could not lie to the Press Corps, nor could he tell them the truth. How could he tell his fellow citizens that the most powerful nation on earth is being held hostage by a Negro former employee of the CIA?
He struggled within himself for a way to say to the American people, for he considered the Press to be his connection to the American people, that the future of America, their country, and possibly even the world, lay at the threshold of America’s ability to deal with its race problem. The same degree of agony which overcame him the night he had to face the Director’s wife and tell her that her husband had died of a heart attack, now compressed him as he searched for a way to stand before an already weary people and tell them that a once thought invisible people had somehow become very visible in the person of one man who now sought to either rewrite their destiny or blow them all to hell.
What could he say? What would he say? “Do not worry what to say. I will speak for you,” God had told a prophet. Now, as he looked at this horde of word hungry reporters, The President hoped that God would do for him what God had done for the prophets. As a member of the Disciples of Christ, he now prayed in his heart for divine guidance.
“Ladies and gentlemen, The President of the United States,” announced the Press Secretary in an authoritative tone of voice.
Silence descended on the room of confusion, as everyone stood silent, while The President entered the room and ascended the podium. Those who had seats took them the moment The President cleared his throat.
“Members of the Press, it’s been a long day and I shall not keep you long. I will make a few comments; after which, I will not be able to answer any questions. I will be speaking to the nation in a televised address within the next 48 hours and hope to then clear up any confusion and answer most of your questions.
“For now, let me say this. Over the past three months our country has been beset by sporadic outbreaks of violence. For the first time since the Civil War and desegregation, American troops have been deployed here at home. Some have referred to these hot spots as part of a revolution. I don’t understand how this word can be so carelessly used.
“Whatever you might call what we’ve been through and what we are yet in the midst of, a revolution is a misnomer. The American system of democracy is not in danger of being overthrown. Government as we know it is not in danger of being replaced. One class of people does not seek to displace and replace another. Are these not the benchmarks of revolution?
“What then do we have here? First, let me say what we do not have. We are not faced with a communist plot. We are a democracy which by its very nature means that we are an experiment. We often refer to ourselves as a democratic society. More accurately, we are a democratic society in the making. We are in a state of flux – a state of becoming. Many of you might recall from elementary science that experiments always have the potential for accidents, explosions if you will.
“Ladies and gentlemen, what we are witnessing is an explosion in the laboratory of democracy. All around our wonderful country, members of our society are saying they feel left out, left behind and unappreciated. These citizens are not saying they don’t want democracy or capitalism – they are saying that they are victims and not proponents of these noble ideals. Dr. King expressed this very eloquently in his visit to our nation’s capitol when he said that ‘America has given the Negro people a bad check; a check which has come back marked insufficient funds.’
“But notice, Dr. King did not say to burn down the bank or to go back to a gold standard. He merely called upon America to make good the promises of democracy and capitalism. This is not a call for a revolution. Quite the contrary, it is a simple but eloquent call for America to live up to her greatness.
“Those who have been bombing and burning and killing are asking for the same thing. They want the vaults of opportunity opened to them so they can cash in on the promises of this great nation. While I cannot and will not tolerate or overlook the methods they have chosen, I understand their plight and the need for adjustments in our national undertaking. That is why ever since Dr. King shared with us his dream I have been contemplating a way to move America from being just a good nation to being a Great Society. I have been envisioning a way to open the vaults of opportunity to all America’s peoples.
“We can no longer accept this national unrest. For it is undermining our position in the world as international leader and bearer of the flag of hope and democracy. This unrest almost caused a dangerous confrontation with the Soviet Union today due to a perceived instability in America’s defence. That matter has been resolved and the Vice President is en route to Moscow for a face to face meeting with Mr. Premier. Forgive me, but I am unable to provide you with any further details regarding this matter.
“On a more personal note, as many of you are aware, the director of the CIA died of a heart attack yesterday. I ask you to pray for his family and friends. He was a great patriot and friend. He will be sorely missed. Ladies and gentlemen, the night is far spent. I don’t know about you, but I am very tired. As we say back in Texas, I am dog tired! Let’s all go home and get some sleep. Within 48 hours all these matters will be resolved and you will receive a full explanation. We can do this. We must do this and we will. You know me and you know that I will not lie to you. I am your President. I tell you America is safe and you can sleep in peace. May God bless each and every one of you. May God bless America!”
The President stepped down from the podium. He was immediately surrounded by Secret Service agents dressed in black suits with white shirts and black ties. They each wore dark glasses and had an earplug in their left ear with a wire that extended from the earplug to beneath their shirts where it disappeared. These agents formed a human barrier around The President to shield him from the onrush of reporters who shouted questions at him.
“That was great Mr. President. Absolutely great!” exclaimed the Press Secretary as he caught up with The President.
“Follow me to the telex room,” commanded The President. His mind was fixed on the mission ahead – he neither needed nor wanted accolades. What he needed now was a miracle.
The President shifted his attention to what he was going to tell the world leaders about the situation in America. He felt good. Like he had done in Dallas, he had dodged another bullet. His speech would hold the Press at bay for the moment, or so he thought. Remembering his use of the term “Great Society” made him smile. He would watch the headlines to see how the media played the concept and this would give him some indication of how his message will be received when and if he has to deliver it.
As The President continued to walk bristly and confidently, he hoped he could work his magic on the world leaders like he had just done for the Press. Then, tomorrow morning, he would put together his crisis management team to devise a plan to deal with the Assistant.
He would also start drafting the elements of his Great Society program. The President was a poker player who knew the benefit of a hold card and the hedging of one’s bets. Though he felt good, he was cautious enough to not allow his good feeling distract him from the urgency of the tasks before him and lull him into a false sense of security.
Reports from Chicago had informed him that the assistant had been shot and The President, a rancher, knew that a wounded animal is more deadly and unpredictable than one which is not injured. Underestimating his opponent was not part of his make-up. After all, he was well aware that the CIA had committed grievous error in that regard – it had underestimated the assistant to the CIA Director. That underestimation gave birth to the disaster that now threatened both heavens and earth.
What he might say to the world leaders suddenly took less importance in his mind as he reflected on how close to disaster he had come this day. That he had come through gave him confidence in tomorrow. Consequently, the disaster that loomed on the horizon seemed less threatening to The President this night. He had survived the day; he was confident he would survive the night as well as the next forty-eight hours.
Blow on ill winds that bring no good, while the people sleep ignorantly in their neighbourhood.
. . .
How is it that people who are near death can perceive that their sojourn on earth is coming to an end? Is death like the fragrance of recently mowed grass which is perceptible only to the person doing the mowing? Or is it like the aromatic air which pours through the open window on Christmas morning with the scent escaping from fireplaces which have been aflame all night?
Is death a person who visits those whose numbers have been called in that grand lottery beyond the sky? Maybe not a person. How could a person visit so many people at the same time? If more than one person, would not this be a very inefficient way of governing the universe?
Why must humans die? And death be such a horrible spectacle? If the spirit, like any other energy, is indestructible, changing only from one form to another, then why can it not power the body instead of relying on sinews, muscles and cells? How is it that humans can sense death yet not deter it?
Is the sense of impending death a cruel curse like that visited upon Cassandra who was blessed with the gift of prophecy and yet cursed by the refusal of people to believe her predictions? Consequently, despite her foretelling of the Trojan War, thousands went merrily to their deaths in disbelief. Must the power of perception mitigate against the power of action?
These are but a few of the thoughts that flowed through the mind of Doctor Johnny Mark Diggs as he gazed at the corpse of the Assistant. He looked at the shapeless, lifeless form which with all its skills and training could neither stay the hand of death nor delay it long enough to complete his mission.
“The assistant is dead – that’s what I said ...Why can’t we brothers protect one another?” The Doctor heard the voice of Curtis Mayfield in his mind’s ear.
The assistant was gone – dead. Death hung on him like a foggy day in London that robs this European capital of its majesty and gives it an eerie, dirty look. Those eyes that once beamed with revolutionary fire were closed. The lips that preached the gospel of violence and self determination were silenced. Hands which forced that giant of destructive force called America to its knees now lay limp across a collapsed chest.
What an awful sight! No amount of mortuary art could remove the pale of death nor restore the mellifluous glow that once emanated from this noble character who had so grandly mounted the stage of life. Like all the great rebels before him, his body would soon lie smouldering in the ground. Unlike some of them though, there would be no song written to commemorate the occasion.
No poem would be delivered to enthrone his noble spirit in the annals of heroes. School children would have no opportunity to sing him praises as they had done for John Brown; nor would the heavens reveal some cosmic wonder as a sign to attest to the Assistant’s affinity with the gods as had happened when Julius Caesar was slain on the Ides of March.
What was it all for? For what purpose had the assistant given his life? Why is it that we humans can find so many reasons to die but few for which to live? Is this the curse of Jesus’ death that so many find it nobler to imitate his death rather than his life? He who came to bring “abundant life” is the model of excessive death?
Curious it is that the Western world celebrates the poverty of Jesus’ birth and the horror of his death but not the wonder of the feeding of five thousand or the sacred call of the dead to life. These questions were among the many that hounded Diggs as he looked for and found a stack of newspapers which he used to wrap the body of the assistant in to delay the stench of death as long as possible. After the body was enclosed in newspaper, the Doctor wrapped it in a blanket and then dragged the limp mass to the far corner where he dumped it.
Diggs stood for a moment admiring his handy work. He wondered whether he should say something – perform some ritual to send the spirit of the deceased on to the next world, or maybe he could say something to ease the pain of death. But there was nothing in his medical training which equipped him to do anything more than he had done. As an emergency room physician, death was a constant presence and the next emergency robbed him of any time to reflect on those deaths – often times they were young black men shot and stabbed by other young black men.
Speechless, Diggs walked slowly over to the cot and sat on its edge, turning his attention to Fredda who slept as if she was a child whom he had just tucked into bed. He did not wake her for the telephone call from the General of the Air Force. Likewise, he did not disturb her sleep when he received a radio call from the few remaining members of the Assistant’s special troops who had survived the attack on NORAD and who were holding a number of hostages in the command center atop the bunker. They had provided him with details of The President’s press conference.5
Fredda shifted her position. She let out a low sound as if she had just experienced some joy in her sleep. Her lips curved into a lovely smile. Diggs smiled. His smile soon turned to a frown when the image of his wife invaded his mind.
Ah, if she could just see me now. He thought to himself. Yes, if she could see him now, she would not know what to make of the transformation which had taken place in this middle-class physician who had never participated in a protest march or demonstration or sit-in. Never had he even written an angry letter to the editor. His mind went back to the day on which he received the telephone call from the Assistant.
Why had he answered the call? At first he feared that it was a patient needing medical care and he would have to refer the patient to another doctor because his hospital privileges had been suspended. Maybe it was a bill collector wondering if the check was in the mail. It might even be a persistent news reporter trying yet again to get his comments on the revolution that was spreading across America.
Each of those things occupied his mind at the time; as a result, at first he refused to answer the telephone. However, it kept ringing and ringing and ringing. Finally, he answered. It was the Assistant. Diggs was shocked. The nerve of this man, who was responsible for the suspension of medical privileges for Diggs and other Black physicians at the county hospital, to be calling the home of one of those doctors. He was angry and bitter and was about to curse this intruder, this rebel with an unpopular cause, when he heard the faint speech marked by groans of pain and that hissing sound that a person makes who has been shot or stabbed and the lung is punctured.
Those sounds of distress were all it took to melt his anger and to call forth his oath as a physician – a medical healer. All of his life he had dreamed of becoming a doctor. He had studied hard and had avoided the marches and protests that were blanketing America. Sacrifices had been made -- he had worked as a waiter, a cook, a taxi driver, an orderly, a nurse’s aide, and many other menial tasks as he struggled through college, then medical school, then an internship. After medical school he received a residency at the county hospital. It was at that moment he entered the rolls of physicians and with it membership in that hallowed sphere of the Black middle class. His medical license was registered with the county clerk’s office – a declaration to the world that he was a legitimate healer of humans. The struggle was over. He had reached his goal. Paradoxically, he became aware of emptiness deep within him – a deep tear in his soul which neither his marriage nor his church attendance could fill. As Black Moses has decreed, sometimes we humans find ourselves in a sad state of affairs like being in quicksand – the more “we wiggle, the deeper we sink.” Likewise, the more Diggs tried to fill that void in his life, with alcohol and pills and extramarital affairs, the wider and deeper the hole became. Perhaps that too worked on him and convinced him to respond to the Assistant’s cry for help.
Maybe it was that emptiness which prevented him from cursing the assistant and slamming down the telephone. Perhaps that is why he found himself not dismissing the assistant but explaining that he could not take him to the hospital. The assistant acknowledged his understanding and stated he did not wish to go to a hospital. After writing down the Assistant’s address, he grabbed his medical bag and went to what became his patient. Along the way, Diggs felt heavier. Could it be that the emptiness inside of him was being filled? Even now he could not answer that question satisfactorily. One thing he did know, at least he now had reason to hope.
Diggs smiled as he recalled his brief but epochal telephone conversation with the assistant and for the first time, wondered how the assistant had gotten his name and number. Strange that he had not thought about this before. With the onslaught of adrenaline, and perhaps even excitement, Diggs rushed to the Assistant’s apartment with no thought of how or why he had been contacted.
Now, in cool reflection, Diggs began to see how anger had given way to excitement and then reckless abandonment. He recalled that first meeting and how, as life oozed out of the Assistant’s body, the wounded rebel retained the fiery tone in which he issued commands as if he were a general on the battlefield. The assistant ordered the Doctor to go by the hospital where a few of his men would assist him in obtaining an ambulance. His apartment was now surrounded by police and he could leave it only as a corpse.
“What about the medical examiner?” Diggs remembered asking at the time.
“Don’t worry,” murmured the assistant through bouts of coughing and wheezing. “I have men handling him. You just get to the emergency room of the hospital. My men will meet you outside.”
It took a long time for the assistant to get out his words. He coughed and wheezed and gagged -- making all the sounds of one caught in the throes of death and struggling to get free. The assistant explained to the Doctor his plan to take a drug that would mimic death; a plan which Diggs deemed too risky and so he tried to dissuade the assistant by arguing the danger of losing consciousness at a time when his body was already in shock. A wry laugh was the Assistant’s only response. The Doctor realized the vanity of his argument and gave up.
He remembered arriving at the hospital and parking his car in an emergency room physician parking space. He got out of his car just as an ambulance pulled up. The driver told him to get in. The driver said nothing more, just drove like a man possessed to the apartment of the Assistant. Again, Diggs questioned why he neither knew nor asked whether the driver and the other attendant in the ambulance were the official technicians or whether they had hijacked the ambulance.
Why had he not asked more questions? What motivated him to go so far so quickly without a single question or demand for explanation? Such actions were so contrary to the caution with which he lived his life and the detachment he had toward the “Black movement.” Even now Diggs refused to push himself for answers. A strange excitement silenced him then and now as he continued his journey down memory lane.
During the journey from the hospital to the Assistant’s apartment, the technician who was not driving took the Doctor’s hospital identification badge and tore out his picture and within a few minutes had fashioned an identification card for the doctor as assistant medical examiner. The man, whose name Diggs still did not know, then rehearsed with the Doctor what to say. Diggs could not refrain from being impressed by their level of efficiency and organization. They were very methodical for criminals, he thought to himself.
“Doc, hear me good,” instructed the technician. “We gonna get da man outta there one way or anotha.” The technician raised a large weapon which the Doctor could not identify.
“You got all of five minutes,” continued the technician as the ambulance turned into the apartment complex. “I mean five real minutes. I’m not talking CP time here!” The technician looked Diggs squarely in the eyes with a look that sent a cold chill throughout the doctor’s body.
The ambulance was waved through the police barricade and came to a stop outside the Assistant’s apartment. Without hesitation, Diggs jumped out, showed his badge to two officers, then rushed into the apartment.
An officer met Diggs at the door and informed him that a police officer had been shot and had already been rushed to the hospital. He then pointed to where the assistant lay on the floor, face down. Diggs gave the body a perfunctory examination and announced the assistant dead. The Doctor smiled as he recalled this event – he learned later that the assistant had made good on his plan and had taken a soporific drug to put him into a deathlike state. Ironically, noted Diggs, that strategy not only helped the assistant to escape the vice grip which the police had on him, it saved his life by slowing down his heart rate and consequently his loss of blood.
After declaring the assistant dead, Diggs told the ranking officer at the scene that the medical examiner wanted to do the autopsy before rigormorphis set in so that he could determine if the assistant was under the influence of any drugs known to be used by members of foreign espionage services. The officer in charge gave him permission to remove the body and the Doctor signalled the two technicians who brought in the stretcher and within minutes were back in the ambulance.
As he left the apartment, the Doctor saw a photographer posed to take his picture. He tried to make a sudden turn to shield his face but was unsuccessful. The flash blinded him, causing him to rub his eyes enough to be able to see the form attached to a clipboard that one of the officers handed to him. Diggs signed the form without reading it while the officer held it.
He handed the officer the pen and released it before the officer could take hold of it. The pen fell to the ground; though Diggs did not notice it for he was inside the ambulance by the time the officer picked up the pen and looked up to see the emergency vehicle speed away.
“Here,” said the passenger technician. He handed The Doctor a handkerchief to wipe away the sweat that gushed from his forehead.
Diggs complied then went to work on his patient who was regaining consciousness. The assistant coughed and gagged and vomited. Diggs, with the assistance of the technician, cleaned him up. Then, making use of the few items in his bag and what he could find in the ambulance, the Doctor struggled to stop the bleeding and to patch up the Assistant, who had been shot three times, as best he could. One of the bullets was lodged in his abdomen and the Doctor was able to remove it. Another bullet was too near his heart to try to remove in the moving ambulance, and the other had gone through the Assistant’s left arm.
By the time the ambulance arrived at the airport, the Doctor had completed the operation on the stomach and sutured it. He repaired the arm on the airplane and gave another look at the chest wound.
The Doctor needed an x-ray to be sure of the location of the bullet, though he could estimate it based on the path it had cut into the Assistant’s flesh. However, Diggs was aware that the bullet could have hit a bone and ricocheted through the body and could be anywhere. If he was to remove it, he had to be for sure. For the moment, he decided to patch up the injury as best he could until they arrived at their location. Perhaps there would be a hospital nearby.
The Doctor did not know the destination of the airplane. He had been so absorbed by the demands of his patient’s condition that he had given little or no thought to the matter. Hence his state of shock when he realized they were at NORAD Headquarters and were mounting an assault against what appeared to be an impervious structure. Then...
Diggs’ mind went blank. He could not recall what happened once they arrived at the base. Though he tried and tried, his mind refused to recall the data. What? Could it be true? Had the government learned some new and advanced technology from the aliens who crashed at Roswell that allowed them to zap a person’s memory? The flash? Remember the flash? He recalled the man at the apartment taking his picture with a flash.
Soon reason took hold of the bewildered Doctor and he dismissed the flash as the source of his memory loss. The flash happened before they ever got to Colorado and NORAD. Wait! That’s it! He remembered. The Air Force General telephoned him a few hours ago and he heard a flash in the background. That’s it! The government had zapped him through the telephone and now he could not remember how they had taken over NORAD.
This startling conclusion shook Diggs from his journey down memory lane and returned him to the now and the urgency of his situation. He reached over and shook Fredda’s shoulder. She mumbled something and hit at his hand as if it were a fly. He tried again. She repeated her action. Finally, he gave up and returned to his thoughts.
. . .
Fredda felt a slight tug on her shoulder. In response, she opened her eyes and beheld the director who sat on the side of the bed smiling. She yawned and smiled as the aroma of his Brut Cologne invaded her nostrils and the sparkle in his eyes warmed her. Like an awakening child who reaches for her mother, Fredda reached out to him. She allowed the director to lift her up into his arms. She now felt greater than at any time in her entire life. And yet, it was an event that was repeated at least once a week whenever the director was not overseas or otherwise away from the Capitol area.
It was moments like this which caused her to adore this man. At first, he was but a pawn in the Assistant’s game of chess against America. The assistant arranged for her to meet the director with the understanding that she was to work her magic on him and get close to him so that she could extract information which the assistant could use to further his cause.
However, it was the director who had worked magic on her. Once again, the hunter had been captured by the game. She recalled how she lay in her queen-sized bed in the arms of the man who lifted her out of the depth of her self-imposed melancholy and jump started her heart to beat with passion again. So long ago it had been that she decided to rid herself of any semblance of emotions. In fact, the decision had been made early in her childhood when she witnessed the brutality of her father against her mother.
Her resolve was strengthened when she became aware of the number of boys and men who got women pregnant and abandoned them. Fredda decided that she did not wish to be a victim, and that her body could be both her weapon and her greatest asset in the marketplace of human exchange.
Thus, she made a rational, conscious decision to become a prostitute. She knew she had something that men desired and were willing to pay for, especially European and American men who came to her little island of Barbados looking for exotic beauty. Whatever gods there may be had been kind to her and given her a wonderland of a body and she intended to make the most of this gift. She was lucky, blessed event, that she had not been a victim of abuse directly. No man had invaded her bed at night unless she invited him. With great determination, she avoided getting pregnant except for two times when nature tried to impose its own will on her and she had aborted the efforts. Not once had anyone physically abused her – although she did have to pull her switch blade on a few Johns who tried to get rough. One time she knocked a customer out with a .45 calibre pistol she kept under her pillow.
Yes, she decided on her own to be a prostitute. It was neither abuse, nor drugs, nor poverty, nor any of the other reasons sociologists give to explain the aetiology of prostitution. She became a prostitute because she enjoyed sex and did not trust men and found it quite pleasant to lie down on the job.
Yet, despite her best efforts, her heart refused to turn to stone. It continued to yearn for something beyond the physical. Her circle of life was incomplete. There was something missing. The puzzle of existence she had so painstakingly put together had a gap in it. She could not find the matching piece.
That was until one evening while attending an Ebony Fashion Fair unveiling of spring gowns. It was there she met Samantha Mannings. Samantha was a fashion designer and one of the prettiest Black women Fredda had ever seen in person. Samantha stood six feet two inches tall. She had very short black hair that she wore parted at her temple and combed to either side. Stylish, she wore a scant amount of make-up though no lipstick.
At the time Fredda met her, Samantha wore a white blouse with large ruffles down the front that fanned out over the black silk Lane Bryant jumpsuit she wore that highlighted her curvaceous shape. Although Lane Bryant was considered the queen of teenage fashion, Samantha enjoyed bragging that she could wear the fashions without much alteration. Fredda admired the way Samantha commanded the men who worked for her and the models and others at the show. But what really grabbed her attention, was when Samantha refused to comply with a command of the imperial Mr. Johnson – patriarch of a black publishing and radio and cosmetic dynasty. Not only was her refusal respected, Mr. Johnson altered his course to conform to the desires of Samantha. This was a power to which Fredda was attracted.
She quickly presented herself to Samantha. It was not long before she and Samantha became lovers. In Samantha she found the one thing missing in her life and she poured out her love and affection on this woman of power who reciprocated. It did take some doing though, to persuade Samantha to allow her to continue as a prostitute since Samantha had adequate resources to take care of the two of them. However, Fredda was willing to share her heart but not at the expense of surrendering her independence.
That had been 10 years ago and she and Samantha were still together, though she maintained an apartment for her “work.” It was to that apartment that the assistant had come and began to alter her world. For she saw in the assistant all the things she did not see in other black men – vision, control, power, purpose, and the willingness to accept responsibility. He was educated but not “stuck up.” He was handsome but not vain; successful, yet did not drive a Cadillac nor date white women. Who could blame her for falling for the Assistant?
The assistant melted her defences the moment he called her a Dahomey Queen. He treated her with dignity and respect. Sometimes he would come by and they would just talk into the early hours of the morning. Other times they would listen to a new jazz album he had bought. Later, however, all he talked about was the revolution and in doing so, for the first time in her life, she looked beyond herself.
The assistant convinced her there was a war to be waged and she needed to be a part of it. It was a suggestion she had never before entertained. She looked at the world and concluded it was messed up. All she could do was to live her life in a way that brought her the least pain. There was no room in her psyche for dreaming and illusions. When the day came on which she could no longer make a living or be independent, she would calmly and courageously end her life. She went through life with her eyes wide open and needed neither drugs nor alcohol to get her through the day. Although she liked an occasional joint or a snort of cocaine, she never progressed beyond a casual user. She also adored Johnny Walker black label. Yet, she did not need these things.
Despite her misgivings, the assistant overcame her resistance and convinced her to get involved. Even now she could not understand how. Perhaps it was his smile or his eyes that beamed with revolutionary fire. It might even have been his gentle touch that caused her body to shiver in delight while her soul yearned for fulfilment. Whatever it was, she entered upon a road that led her to the Director.
Some women spend a lifetime without ever having the experience of being involved with a wonderful man. Fredda had two such experiences. She blushed with joy as she felt the strength of the embrace of the director and inhaled his cologne. Here was a man she loved completely without any care as to whether he loved her. Her love was sufficient.
She found it odd that whenever she was in the director’s arms as she was now, that she seldom thought of Samantha. Her love for the assistant and the director did not diminish her love one iota for Samantha. How wonderful and lucky she felt. It was no wonder that she held the director tighter and tighter.
She then moved her face towards his and pulled at his lips. They were not the lips she had tasted so many times before. These lips were cold and tasteless.
Fredda opened her eyes. She discovered she was holding onto her pillow which is what she had been kissing. A noise across the room attracted her attention. She turned to see the Doctor alternating between the telephone and the radio. Tears began to flow from her eyes as she returned to darkness and tried to reclaim her dream. She succeeded only in her reach for darkness for dreaming evaded her. Weary and alone, she slept and nothing more.
. . .
The President exited the Telex Room and headed for his private quarters. He said good night to his Press Secretary and allowed only a single Secret Service Agent to accompany him. They walked in silence up the narrow hallway which took them past the press room.
“Excuse me, Mr. President; may I have a few minutes?”
“Sure, Walter,” answered The President. He gave the Secret Service Agent a nod which sent him into the Press room to take the seat which had been occupied by Walter Cronkite.
“How long have you been waiting, Walter?” The President asked as Walter Cronkite approached him and extended his hand which The President gave a firm and determined shake.
“Not long, Mr. President. I thank you for your time.”
“No problem. What’s on your mind?” The President moved a few steps past the open door and stopped.
Walter joined him and said, “Mr. President, I have noticed that those in the line of succession to you have been sent out of the country with the exception of the President pro-tempore of the Senate and the Speaker of the House. Is there something going on that you are not telling us?”
The President looked at Walter. He wondered what to tell him. He knew Walter was well known and respected in press circles and the American people held him in high esteem. More importantly, he had enjoyed many years of cordial relations with this great American broadcaster and did not wish to sever that relationship now even if he was in a precarious situation.
He thought a few more minutes and said, “Walter, this is strictly off the record. There was an accident at NORAD earlier this afternoon that caused our missile silos to open. The Soviets went on red alert and we had a tough time getting them to stand down. I have dispatched our top officers to our allies and to the Soviets to explain what happened and to assure the American people and the world that we are going about business as usual.”
The two men sat down next to each other, but The President turned his chair around so he could look into Walter’s eyes and allow the venerable newscaster to see the sincerity in The President’s eyes.
“Any chance of those missiles being fired?” Walter continued.
“No Walter, thank God. We have the situation contained. While things are not yet back to normal, they are under control,” said The President. He placed his right hand on Walter’s shoulder and gave him a reassuring light squeeze.
“What do I tell the American people?”
“The same things I said at the Press conference. You might add that you have no reason to doubt your President.”
“Do I, Mr. President?”
The President did not answer. He stood up and walked back to the door and beckoned the Agent to join him as he proceeded on to his private quarters. Walter returned to the Press room, gathered his things and left.
He sensed that there was more to the events of the day than The President was admitting to. One does not become an internationally respected journalist without a nose for the news and an inner eye to see beyond the obvious.
His nose now felt like a radar that has sighted an unknown intruder as he left the silence of the White House and the White House lawn and entered the courtesy car which had been sent to bring him to the Press conference by the White House Press Secretary. His nostrils opened wider. This stalwart of American journalism sensed a foul smell in the air. It was that prophetic odour that one who is attuned to nature gets whenever the winds are about to shift and an ominous cloud appears to announce the storm which is approaching from the distant horizon. Walter sensed these things. Yet, little did he know that his senses were warning him not of a storm, but of a disaster among the heavens.
. . .
Shannon read and reread the telex before dropping it into a nearby paper shredder. After he was convinced the document was demolished beyond repair, he turned the machine off and turned to face Rodney Simmons who was entering the part of the Boeing 747-100SP jet liner where Shannon was. The aircraft was designated for the exclusive use of Shannon and so he named it Tereus.
“What’s up?” asked Simmons as he entered the small alcove which comprised the communications centre of the special equipped jet.
“Marching orders from The President.”
“Well, like, what do they say?” Simmons gave Shannon a searching look.
“Sorry,” responded Shannon as he exited the centre and headed for the main cabin where he set down in a plush leather chair. Shannon followed him and sat down opposite him in a similar chair.
“You don’t have the proper clearance to know. But do not worry, you will be told what you need to know at the proper time.” answered Shannon.
“Like, it’s a black thing, right?” Simmons retorted with the breath of a charging bull.
“Look, don’t go giving me that black thing shit,” retorted Shannon with a tinge of irritation. “It doesn’t matter what color you are – you don’t have the proper clearance and that’s that! Jesus, there are more requirements to life than race!”
“Excuse me, sir, would you care for a drink?” A nicely shaped brunette in a light blue A-line dress which ended about five inches above her knees appeared at an opportune moment. She was the lone stewardess on this flight of only two passengers.
“Yes, Barbara, how about a pitcher of Martinis?”
“Sure, coming right up.” Barbara turned and left.
“What about me?” asked a disgruntled Rodney.
“We don’t have malt liquor on board. Relax, it’s time to move up to the big leagues,” said a smiling Shannon. He patted Rodney on the knee then pressed a button on the console of the right arm of his chair and a table slowly emerged from the floor between where the two men sat.
“Wow!” exclaimed Rodney. “That’s rich. Maybe this revolution ain't so bad after all.”
Shannon smiled. He pressed another button and the lights in the cabin dimmed. Another button brought the sound of Miles Davis’ “Kind of Blue.”
“Far out! Man, you are full of surprises,” exclaimed a beaming Rodney.
“You can thank Barbara. I told her I was bringing a distinguished detective from Memphis who likes serious music,” smiled Shannon.
“Ah man, the king of cool. Miles is like the master musician – the creator of a whole new sound. Jazz will be forever described as before and after Miles,” lectured Rodney. Shannon just smiled. He had no idea what was happening on the American music scene.
“Here we go, sir,” said Barbara pushing a Povl Christiansen Danish Modern tea cart which she parked aside the table between Shannon and Rodney. She removed a silver tray and placed it on the table, then set a Tiffany crystal picture of Vodka Martinis on top the tray. Next, she placed a crystal bowl of mixed nuts on the table and finally a small crystal bowl of caviare, followed by Ritz crackers, silk napkins and Oneida silverware.
“Thanks, Barbara,” smiled Shannon. He gave her a quick wink.
“Yea Barbara, like thanks a lot, especially for the music,” added Rodney.
“You are both welcome,” beamed Barbara. “I am here to serve whatever your needs are.” She placed emphasis on “whatever.”
“Not at the moment,” answered Shannon.
Barbara poured Martini into two glasses and sat one in front of each of the two men. She then straightened the items remaining on her tray and before changing sides so she could push the tray in the direction from which she had come, the pleased and smiling stewardess said, “Remember, I am just a press of the finger away.”
She disappeared before a response could be made. Shannon raised his glass and said, “Here’s to a successful mission.”
“Here, here,” agreed Rodney. He added sarcastically, “Whatever mission it is.”
Glasses raised then lowered, the two men took a long gulp of the smooth liquid. “Wow!” exclaimed Rodney. “That is some heavy stuff.”
“Really?” questioned Shannon in a displeased tone. “I am sorry; it is supposed to be light and refreshing. I’ll have Barbara to fix another batch.”
“Oh, no,” laughed Rodney. “Heavy as in like really cool – good.”
“Oh, I see,” laughed Shannon.
They downed the remainder of their drinks and Shannon refilled the glasses about three quarters full. “Try this,” said Shannon. He placed some caviare on a cracker and handed it to Rodney on a napkin.
“What the hell is that?” asked Rodney. His face contorted into the kind of expression a child displays who has just been forced fed a spoon of Castor Oil.
“Caviare,” answered Shannon. “C’mon, give it a try.”
“Caviare?” asked Rodney. “I’ve heard of that but this is the first time I’ve seen it. Not the most appetizing looking food I’ve seen.”
“Well, you can’t judge food by its looks. Here, try it.”
“Ummmmm, that’s good. What is it?” Rodney took the cracker, smelled the caviare, looked at it from several angles, took a tiny bite then inhaled the remaining cracker.
“Fish eggs?” queried an incredulous Rodney. He frowned.
“Relax. Or, as you would say, chill out,” laughed Shannon. He gulped down a cracker of caviare, made two more and handed one to Rodney.
“What difference does it make at which stage you eat fish? It is all a matter of perspective. Enjoy.”
Rodney accepted the caviare as he sat back in his seat and pondered the comments of Shannon. He did not know that Shannon was after more than the appeasement of the young detective’s appetite. The veteran knew that if they were going to succeed in their mission, he needed the complete trust and confidence of his young associate. Between these two men was a vast gap. There were cultural differences; age, experience, outlook, philosophical and many other factors which contributed to that gap. Thus, Shannon needed to find what Gadamer has referred to as a “shared horizon of understanding.” He had to find a way to narrow the distance between them without diminishing who each of them was and without raising suspicions that the novice was being appropriated to the service of the expert. Shannon valued Rodney too much to make such an error as he knew that if he were to succeed in his mission, then he needed insight into the men who were holding NORAD hostage. Rodney was able to provide that insight – at least that is what Shannon hoped.
As the jetliner moved ever closer to Colorado, the gap between the two men remained; however, the Martinis and good food helped to ease the turbulence created by that gap as Shannon continued to elevate he and Rodney to a shared horizon of understanding. Trivial conversation helped in this latter regard.
“Like how are we going to work together if I don’t know what’s happening?” asked Rodney as the music changed from Miles Davis to Jimmy Smith’s “Living It Up.”
“I mean, hell, I didn’t ask to come on this trip.” The laughter faded from the young man’s face signalling a shift from casual conversation to the business at hand which caught Shannon slightly by surprise. Rather than relaxing Rodney, the Martinis seemed to have emboldened him.
Displaying neither surprise nor disgust, Shannon leaned across the table and looked Rodney squarely in the eyes. “Take my word for it, you will be told all you need to know at the time you need to know it.”
“Come again?” Rodney’s face distorted into a puzzled look.
Shannon moved even closer to him and smiled. He put his hand on top of Rodney’s and tried to ease the young detective’s concerns. If they were going to reach a shared horizon, this was a critical moment.
“Look, Detective, don’t sweat the small stuff; everything’s going to be okay. Let’s get some sleep. Soon we will be landing and there will be no time for sleeping – only action. Believe me, we’re going to need all the strength we can muster and more once we touch down.”
Although not completely satisfied, Rodney relented. He headed for his sleeping quarters. Shannon did likewise. This had been a very unusual and taxing day for both men. Weary as they were, they each sought the blanket of darkness in the hope of finding comfort in the light that had been denied to them.
While they slept, the jetliner Tereus took them ever closer to NORAD as Barbara cleaned the table and returned it to its resting place and prepared breakfast. These forlorn travellers faced a crisis which would demand all the energy they could summon and more. They were oblivious as their specially equipped spy agency in the sky etched towards the Cheyenne Mountains and to a fate neither knew nor anticipated.
Perhaps had they known what lay ahead, they would order the captain to turn the silver bird around and retreat to the known disaster from which they had come. Yet they did not know. In ignorance, they slept to the hum and clatter of Langonliers eating away at the past and marooning them in an uncertain future. In the morning they would awake and together they would discover that they had landed in a disaster by day that was far greater than any irruption of the night. Sail on silver bird betwixt heaven and earth, even as disastrous winds do on rooster vanes perch!
. . .
Doctor Diggs continued to sit on the side of the bed where Fredda lay sleeping. He was about to crawl in beside her when the radio blasted forth the words of Hammer Head, the late Assistant’s second in command.
“Hey, dog breath, answer the goddamn radio!” his voice boomed.
The Doctor rushed across the room as the foul language continued to bombard his ears. He grabbed the radio and shouted into it, “What the hell’s your problem, man, people are sleeping here!”
“Hey, dog breath, answer the goddamn radio or I’m comin' down dar and dip off into your ass!”
Diggs realized he had failed to depress the transmission switch. He did so and said, “Yea, man, what’s up?”
This time Diggs reduced the volume of his voice in deference to Fredda who groaned and turned on her side.
“I need some freaking answers. Shit, I didn’t come here to babysit. Put my man on!”
The Doctor looked at the Assistant’s corpse in the corner as his mind searched its memory banks for a response to Hammer Head. “Look man, the Assistant’s asleep. He’s in deep pain. I gave him a strong sedative. He’s out cold!”
“Look Doc, I’m freaking tired of your bullshit games. I’m gonna let ya slide this time. But hear me and hear me damn good. In the morning I want to speak to my main man and I don’t want no freaking ifs, ands or buts. Can ya dig it?”
“Ah, well, uhhhhhhh, what’s happening? What is it? What’s wrong?” It was Fredda who had been awakened by the thunderous voice of Hammer Head. She sat up on the side of the bed with the covers wrapped tightly around her.
“It’s Hammer Head again,” answered Diggs. His voice trembled.
“Hey, dog breath, did you copy me?” boomed Hammer Head.
The Doctor pressed the switch and fumbled, “Yea, ah, sure, ease up man.”
“Ease up my ass! Don’t freak with me Doc. You’d rather walk through hell in gasoline draws than freak with me! Dig?”
“Sure, ah, yea, I mean I’ll have your man ready to talk to you in the morning.” Diggs looked at Fredda who gave him a puzzled look in return.
“You’d freaking better. Cause Doc, if my man don’t get on the radio when I call in the morning ya know what I’m gonna do?”
“No man, I don’t.”
“I’m gonna come down there and put my foot so deep in your ass it’ll take Red Adair and a platoon of marines to get it out! Dig?”
“Yea man, just don’t call too early. It’ll be closer to mid morning before he comes out of it,” counselled The Doctor. He struggled to be patient with Hammer Head and not enrage him any more than he already was.
A stressed Doctor Diggs placed the radio down gingerly as if doing so would dissipate the sting of Hammer Head’s words. This was a complication he did not anticipate. He had no idea how to resolve it; realizing he could not bluff Hammer Head or delay him for long. There was no reasoning with this six foot four, two-hundred and fifty pounds ex-convict.
“Hammer represents the epitome of black rage,” the assistant had argued when Diggs questioned him about having such a person as his second in command.
“What we have to do is to control that rage and direct it towards the white man,” the assistant reasoned in one of his moments when death loosened its hold on him.
The Doctor disagreed, though only in his mind for he feared causing the assistant to relapse into a choking fit. He noticed that Hammer Head was just as violent towards Blacks as he was towards whites. Hammer Head, for Diggs, represented the absurdity of the Assistant’s so-called revolution. It was Blacks who were most hurt by the widespread violence and killings. Death and incarceration rates were much higher for Blacks than whites.
He wished he could have discussed this with the assistant whom he considered quite intelligent and insightful. What was he going to do about Hammer Head?
“Perhaps there won’t be a tomorrow,” he said to the radio. He turned and faced Fredda who was now completely awake.
“What do you mean no tomorrow? she asked. “There’s got to be a tomorrow.”
Diggs did not respond. He walked over and sat next to Fredda.
“What do we do now?” she asked. She propped herself up using the pillows.
“Those presidential pillows suit you nicely,” said Diggs, referring to the presidential seal on the pillows. Fredda smiled.
Diggs sat down beside her. “As for that monster, I don’t know. I haven’t a clue. I’m sick of this whole mess. Maybe we ought to find a way out of here before morning. Maybe we should fire the damn missiles and be done with it!”
“You mean give up when we are so close to victory?” asked Fredda. She let go of the covers and exposed her voluptuous breasts.
Fredda adjusted her position so that she was closer to Diggs. He had buried his face in his hands. She reached out to him with her right hand while holding the covers with her left. All other movement in the room came to a stop.
It was Fredda who spoke next. She lifted Diggs’ head out of his hands and turned his face towards hers. “Look sweetheart, I have lost the only two men I have ever loved.
“Both of them betrayed by a woman they cared a lot about. If you give up now, it would all have been in vain. Think how many Black people are depending upon you?” Fredda let go of the Doctor.
Diggs came to life. “Black people?” He jumped up from the bed. “I’m sick of this black shit!”
“C’mon, let’s get some sleep,” pleaded Fredda. “We’ll figure it out in the morning.”
The Doctor ignored the plea and continued on his journey for an answer. “What is black? What does it mean to be “Black”?”
Realizing the futility of her efforts, Fredda responded, “Well, whatever it is, one thing it is not and that’s eating soul food! Nor does it mean wearing an Afro and listening to jazz or the blues.”
She continued as The Doctor stared at her in admiration, “Black doesn’t mean working up a sweat at church or doing the split like James Brown on the dance floor. What being “Black” really means is best expressed by a Black intellectual who wrote that no matter what your station in life; no matter the content of your character; regardless of the intelligence of your mind; you are subject to being judged the world over merely by the color of your skin.
“Black means that even if you graduate from the best school, have the best job, live in the best suburb, wear the best clothes and drive the best car – all of those things are invisible to the vast majority of eyes in the world and if you are seen at all – you are seen as a dark-skinned creature who is somehow less than fully human.”
Fredda let go of Diggs’ hand. He smiled then frowned. Fredda’s speech reminded him of his wife.
Fredda ignored the change in demeanour and continued. “Sadly, love, even light-skinned Blacks like yourself can’t escape this reality. Oh sure, some of you are able to pass by abandoning all claims to Blackness and selling your souls to the devil of illusions. I have seen your kind day after day walk the downtown streets of Chicago with your noses up in the air like you’re better than the rest of us. I see you walking with your white friends and then the moment the sun goes down you run across the track to try to get in touch with your black soul.
“Yes, love, you and all of your middle class buddies think you have it made. But you’re nothing more than tokens which the white man uses to convince himself that he’s not racist and that his system is fair. He holds you up and says to the rest of us, ‘See what you can become if you play by the rules?’”
Fredda no longer sounded like Diggs’ wife. His wife was enamoured with the Black middle class and saw it as the salvation for Blacks. Like Diggs, she deplored what the assistant was doing.
He began to miss his wife as Fredda moved closer to the edge of the bed and slightly farther away from him.
She continued, “But it’s all a big lie. A grand illusion! As you have discovered, only so many of us are allowed to make it at any given time. When the chips are down, the white man sees you the same way he sees the rest of us and you’re out on your ass with us.
“Look at yourself, Doctor, you thought you had it made. But as soon as the assistant starts some shit, the white man doesn’t see a doctor or someone who has played by the rules and who has bowed down to his illusion. All he sees is another angry Negro!”
Diggs stared at Fredda. Her words hit him like so many knives piercing his soul. He clenched his fists. For once in his life he had a burning need to strike a woman – to beat the words back into this woman who spoke so eloquently those things that now tore at his soul.
He wanted to attack the truth that sat before him and to beat it into oblivion. As he glanced at Fredda, her eyes looking into his soul, he saw his own helplessness reflected in her eyes and he wanted to tear them out. Fredda had named the emptiness within him and revealed his darkest inner self. As he suffered through her words, he began to understand why he went to the Assistant’s aid. The Assistant, without words, had also named Diggs’ emptiness.
“Are you okay?” Fredda asked as she noticed the color go out of Diggs’ face. She put her arms around him and let the covers fall away from her body as if she hoped her nakedness would melt the ice from around his heart.
Diggs turned away from Fredda and stared straight ahead. His eyes focused on a painting on the wall which depicted Napoleon standing majestically at Waterloo giving his Old Guard a final charge, oblivious to the advancing hordes being led towards his position by Lord Wellington.
The Doctor tried to lose himself in the picture. He noticed there were no black faces in the painting. His momentary sanctuary turned to a reflective hell constructed by the words of Fredda and this increased his discomfort.
Sweat gushed from his forehead. His breathing turned heavy, staccato and then it slowed and got slower still until he felt himself gasping for breath.
He broke free of Fredda and ran over to a nearby garbage can from which he extracted the White Castle sack that he had on yesterday crumbled up and thrown there with the accuracy of Wilt Chamberlain. He unravelled it, clasped it over his nose and mouth and tried to recapture his breath.
Fredda, still naked, caught up with him and led him back to the bed where she eased him into it, sitting beside him. She stroked the back of his neck, got up and took a wash cloth out of a nearby drawer and wet it then placed a few ice cubes in it that she got from the small refrigerator and returned and sat beside Diggs and placed the wash cloth against his forehead with one hand while stroking his neck with her other hand. Soon the colour returned to his face. He regained his regular rhythm of breathing.
“Are you okay?” she asked with the tenderness of a mother.
“Yes, I think I’ll be fine,” answered the Doctor. He crumbled the paper up again and tossed it towards the trash can. He missed.
“C’mon, it’s late. You’re worn out. Let’s get some sleep. We’ll figure out what to do in the morning,” counselled Fredda in the mode of Scarlet O’Hara, who represents the ethics of tomorrow will bring the answer needed today.
Diggs jumped up from the bed. He startled Fredda who was reaching for the covers. “In the morning? Didn’t you hear what that crazy Hammer Head said?”
Bewildered, confused, and frightened, Diggs looked straight into Fredda’s eyes who feared he was getting hysterical again. She tried to comfort him. “Don’t worry about that guy. I knew him in Chicago. He’s blowing smoke. He’ll be calmed down in the morning.”
Diggs was not convinced. He grabbed his head with his hands and spoke with a whisper.
“Yea right. Famous last words. If I don’t put the assistant on that radio in the morning, that idiot will come down here. What the hell am I supposed to do?”
Fredda looked into her weary friend’s eyes and pleaded, “He’s only bluffing. He won’t leave his post. He fears the Assistant. Thank God he doesn’t know the poor fellow’s dead.”
Still not persuaded, sweat oozed from Diggs’ forehead. He looked at Fredda and in a prosecutorial tone of voice said, “Hammer Head doesn’t have enough sense to bluff! He’s a fitting protégé of the assistant – a raving lunatic. He’s like all those who believe that violence is the answer to our problems. It’s easy to be violent. It’s easy to burn baby burn. Violence is the retreat of the unenlightened. It’s easy to be a drunk or a drug addict or a criminal.”
Diggs sat up in the bed. He felt his strength returning.
“What’s hard is doing what we middle-classed Blacks have tried to do – to build communities out of the ashes of slavery and racism! You, Hammer Head and the assistant laugh at us and degrade us. But what have you offered in return? Promises and false hopes. You burn and destroy in the name of black power. I’m sick of black this and black that!”
Again, Diggs was getting worked up. Fredda tried to say something to him but he turned away from her, got out of the bed, and stood looking toward the ceiling. He raised his fist as if shaking it at God and said:
“Black is beautiful. It is the cause of the Motherland--
the pride of her people.
Black is Don Lee Imanu Amiri Baraka and Eldridge Cleaver
(Before the water).
I saw my sister’s husband refuse to work for the white man
cause he’s black and proud--so he sat home and
lived off welfare checks mailed by a white social worker,
delivered by a white mailman, cashed
by a white store clerk, spent at a white store.
I saw my brothers drop out of the white man’s school and
enter the white man’s jail--heard them curse the white man
all night long while drunk on white man’s liquor;
watched them reject the white man’s medicine then
OD on the white man’s drugs.
I’ve read black
And I’m sick of it!
I want to reach forward--to soar to new heights--
to touch the hand of the colorless man--
When he was finished, Diggs stood erect and raised his other fist toward the ceiling like a defiant Hamlet. He closed his eyes and stood there. Fredda was both impressed and confused. She was impressed by the spontaneity of Diggs’ poetry but confused by the message contained in it. In recent months she was forced to push her mind beyond its capacity as she was dragged into events which she could neither comprehend nor understand.
She agreed with Diggs that the assistant had been misguided in starting a revolution without a specific goal in mind. Surely he could not have thought he could overthrow the government of the United States.
Fredda had seen violence all her life – from the union strikes to race riots and she knew that reason had a way of becoming boxed in until violence came along and freed it. Although she loved to be loved and to love and knew the power of love; she had come to realize very early in her life that love is at its best when hate lurks in the shadows. The assistant did not need to tell her that America embraced Dr. King only because Americans feared Malcolm and other Blacks who spoke of violence and some who actually perpetrated it.
During the time she watched life escape out of the Assistant, she had reached down deep inside herself to find a way to give meaning to the hate and violence of the last few months. Out of that effort had come the Manifesto on A Great Society. Diggs had been a great help in polishing the language and sharpening her ideas – many of which had been voiced by the assistant in his more relaxed moments when the flames of hate were not consuming him. She could never understand why the assistant would not use his contacts in government to try to make those things a reality.
Fredda failed to understand why the assistant had chosen violence instead of politics. Why he did not run for office or use his position at the foundation which hired him after he left the CIA to push some of the wonderful ideas he had. The mystic fog she saw in the assistant she now saw in Diggs. She watched him open his eyes and turn towards her; she sought a way to do for him what she had not been able to do for the assistant or the director – to save him – to give him an honourable way out of the dilemma in which he found himself.
“Don’t worry, I’ll take care of Hammer,” Fredda said to Diggs who had reclaimed his seat next to her. “After all, he’s my home boy.” She hoped these words would comfort Diggs so she could get back to sleep. Her hopes were dashed in a hurry.
Like a wounded animal, Diggs responded with fiery darts that hit Fredda at the bull’s eye of her heart. “And what will you do? Screw him to death?”
The darts hit their mark. Fredda gave Diggs the look of Medusa. In silent hurt, she fell into the bed and pulled the covers over her. Tears began to flow down her cheeks. Silence was replaced by deep groans of pain as the comforter longed to be comforted.
Diggs realized his error. He pulled at the covers. For a few seconds he and Fredda engaged in a tug of war. This time he was victorious; unaware that Fredda had loosened her grip.
“Look, I’m sorry. I am so sorry,” he said as he crawled into the bed and slid beneath the covers. He took Fredda into his arms.
With some difficulty, he turned her to face him. Her sleep breath invaded his nose, stimulating him in a freaky sort of way. The Doctor licked the tears from her face and replaced them with midnight saliva. He continued to stroke her face with his tongue while his hands massaged her breasts -- slowly and methodical.
The Doctor moved his hands farther down, replacing them with his tongue which sucked at her breasts like a famished baby. Fredda jumped at the touch of the invading hands. She gave out a pleasurable shriek. Diggs licked around each nipple then glided them one after another into his mouth where he sucked on them gently as if they were a Tootsie Roll Pop. He tried to get the entire breast into his mouth but they were too big, or his mouth was too small. As he continued with the breasts, his hands worked on her thighs – first outside then inside them.
Fredda took hold of his penis and tried to stroke it but she was too deep in ecstasy and let it go. Diggs did not complain. Rather, he took one nipple into his mouth while he stroked the other one with his left hand. His right hand massaged Fredda’s vagina until it was moist. He used the moisture as a lubricant that allowed him to insert his index finger into her vagina. Once inside, he moved his finger around until he found the clitoris. Fredda groaned to let him know he was there. He held this position for some time. Naura Hayden would have been proud of his accomplishments. Meanwhile, Fredda tried again to return the joy she was experiencing. She took hold of his penis and stroked it, then massaged his thighs and then his butt.
Diggs acknowledged his pleasure by speaking in tongues. In return, he increased the rhythm of his own actions. Fredda pulled him on top of her and drove his hardness inside of her as Diggs moved his hands to her butt and held it nearly off the bed as he began to drill for oil.
“Oh God, yes, yes, yes. O-O-O-O! It’s yours. Work it like you wanna!” Fredda called out.
Her body shook with the force of Mount Saint Helens as she erupted inside. She lost control of her hands and the index finger of one of them, which was now inside Diggs’ butt, thrust forward and its fingernail dug into his prostate. Diggs gave out a loud scream of pleasure mixed with pain as he too erupted and then collapsed on top of Fredda.
It was over. Man and woman now lay enfolded in each other’s arms. They were one. They were satisfied. They were relieved. They were exhausted.
However, they were not safe. Nor were they any closer to solving the problem that had made them one. For these bodies, locked lovers, that no longer mattered. They now slipped into darkness. Whatever problems they had would have to await the morning. Sleep well lovers in your subterranean lair. Let your minds be filled with visions of another time and place where such joys go unmolested by the night. For this night, even as you lay enfolded each to each, two Trojan birds have landed and are now taxiing to the terminal where they will yield up the prizes inside of them. Soon a third will join them. Sleep well lovers of the subterranean lair, for soon the daystar will arise and where passion now is disaster will be there!
. . .
John Theodore Baronford, a stringer for UPI, guided his Cessna 210F named Icarus over the vast mountain range towards the Cheyenne Mountain in Colorado as the recently released “Cherry, Cherry” cascaded from the radio rather than the usual air traffic chatter.
It was dawn though the sun had not yet entered the morning sky. He was well aware of the terrain over which he must travel and knew that there would be no eyes in this sparsely populated land to betray his quick entry and exit. Like any good first string reporter, he had done his research and knew that Colorado was the eighth largest state in terms of land mass but fell to number twenty eight when population was added to the mix and most of those people lived in and around the major cities.
“Groovy! Hit me again,” he said to Mark Anthony Periguni who sat in the back seat with his girlfriend, a brunette named Laura Browning. Mark rolled another joint and handed it to Melanie Danceford, the blonde who sat next to John.
Melanie took the cigarette, lit it, took a long drag, then handed it to John as she said, “Dahlin', this is crazy. Can’t you think of something better to do than trying to get a story in these God-forsaken mountains?”
John looked at her bulging breasts. He licked his lips as he received the aromatic cigarette. “Nope. This is one of those things which come once in a lifetime if at all. Someday I will be the head of UPI and I want the young people that I send into harm’s way to know that I have been there before them.”
He sucked on the reefer as if it were oxygen he needed for resuscitation then passed it back to Melanie as he slowly blew the smoke straight ahead. It bounced off the window and spread throughout the small plane. Everyone sniffed the air in an attempt to cleanse the air by defiling their lungs. Meanwhile, Mark rolled a fat one, lit it and handed it to Laura who sucked on it and said to Mark, “Ready for a shotgun?”
“Yea,” replied Mark enthusiastically. “Shoot me!”
Laura took a long, long, deep throated draw of the torch and then blew the mountainous smoke directly into the nostrils of Mark who sucked it deep within his lungs, brain and every other cavity. He gave a loud yell as his head felt like a balloon floating in the air.
“Hit me too!” shouted Melanie. She handed the smaller, near roach to John. Laura then shot her as she had Mark. She turned to Mark, handing the bulky smoke to him; and, he in turn shot Laura.
“Mark, get the camera ready. We’ll be there in a few moments,” commanded John.
“Aye, aye, Captain,” joked Mark. He accepted another shot from Laura before beginning the task of assembling his camera.
“Icarus, this is NORAD, you are approaching restricted airspace. Please turn around immediately!” boomed the radio. The incoming message started out as a faint whisper then increased in volume until it displaced the song.
“Shit!” exclaimed John. He wrestled with the controls.
“Aren’t you going to answer them?” Melanie asked.
“Naw, they’re just blowing smoke. We’ll be in and out before they can even wake up a pilot, much less get him in the air.”
Melanie heard the quiver in John’s voice more than the words he spoke and this heightened her tension. She reached into the back seat, snatched the shotgun from Laura, and sucked on it as if she hoped the smoke would infuse her with comfort and courage.
“Icarus, this is NORAD, you are approaching restricted airspace. You are ordered to turn around. This is not a drill,” repeated the radio.
“You better answer it, John,” pleaded Mark. “I don’t want no trouble.”
“C’mon guys, relax,” said John in an attempt to ebb the mounting tension. “We have a job to do and we’re going to do it. All we have to do is get a few shots of those open silos and then get the hell out of here. I tell you, this is Pulitzer Prize material!”
“I have but one question,” responded Mark as he completed getting the camera ready which he pointed at John and snapped his picture. “Is it safe?”
“Who the hell are you, Dr. Strangelove?” John asked in a nervous tone of voice. “Of course it’s safe. This ain’t no outbreak of military insanity. This is the U. S. of A. The military won’t fire on civilian aircraft, especially when the pilot has my last name. Jesus, just relax.”
John believed the words he spoke. They made perfect sense in his logical mind. Unfortunately, John knew the craft of reporting better than he knew history. He did not know of the BZ Ladder, Mai Lai, Area 51, the Tuskegee experiment, and Wounded Knee.
This young wide-eyed idealist believed in boundaries and limits – there was a limit to how far the military was willing to go. There was a line drawn in the sand of morality which our government would never trespass beyond. In John’s defence, it was four years before Kent State, five years before the publication of the Pentagon Papers, and six years before Watergate – the trifecta of events which would drive an irreparable crevice between government and the people – a gap which would be filled with cynicism and bridged by mistrust. Thus, the idealism which pushed him forward can be understood and forgiven.
Nevertheless, he was within minutes of having his idealism shattered. John would soon discover that he was not in any restricted airspace – he was in a Black Hole of government conspiracy where logic and morality do not apply. Light and reason enter this black mass but they never escape. There is nothing too inhumane, too insidious for our government to do when it seeks to keep the American people in the dark about a matter. John and his crew would learn this lesson sooner than they wanted.
“Hello Icarus, this is The General of the United States Air Force. John, is that you?”
“Why hello, General,” John said into the mike, dispensing with the formalities of radio transmissions. He was set at ease by the voice of someone he recognized as a friend of his father. “What the hell are you doing out here?”
“See, I told you we’d be okay. The General knows my dad,” said John to his crew. A sigh of relief was expressed by all.
“Son, listen to me – you are in restricted airspace. A Phantom F-4 is already approaching your position. It has orders to fire on you. Please son, this is no drill. I beg you to turn your aircraft around.” The General’s voice was cold, calculating as if he were a machine and not a friend of John’s father. He spoke tender words but the mundane, monotonous tone with which he spoke them gave the words sharp edges.
“John, dahlin’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’’', I’m gettin' a funny feelin',” pleaded Melanie. “It makes no sense to risk our lives. Let’s go. We can try again later,” Laura repeated her words. Mark aped them as well.
“Be cool folks. They’re bluffing. You know who my father is. No way in hell they’ll fire on me. Relax, I tell you. We are going to get those pictures and get the hell out of here.”
. . .
The General saw disaster lurking before him. He ran his hand through his crew cut salt and pepper hair. He tried one other desperate move. He picked up the telephone and dialled the number to the Command Centre.
“Your nickel. Spit it out.” The General recognized the voice of Hammer Head.
“This is The General of the Air Force. I have been authorized by The President to negotiate a settlement. What is it you want?” The General tried to sound firm but not desperate.
“Negotiator? We don’t need no damn negotiator!”
“Don’t give me that. Everybody wants something,” pleaded the General. “You haven’t gone through all this trouble for nothing. Listen to me, we can work things out. Tell me what it is you want.”
“I want you to die, dog breath!”
The General held the receiver away from his ear. He was getting desperate. Caught between his duty to his President and his love for his friend’s son, he struggled to find a reasonable solution. Time was running out. Each minute moved him closer to disaster. There was no way he could allow John to invade the airspace over NORAD and see the open silos. Equally perplexing, he could not give an order that would kill the only son of his best friend.
He tried again, “Look, everyone wants something. I can negotiate on behalf of the American people. I am The Negotiator. Tell me what you want.”
“I want you to die, dog breath!”
The General was getting nowhere. Time was wasting away. Time was the one thing he did not have. “Look, send me a hostage and we can negotiate a settlement to this thing.”
“Okay. One’s coming.”
The General perked up. His lips turned into a sly grin. He saw the door to the Command Centre open up and a female, about twenty-two years of age with long blond hair which lifted off her shoulder in the morning air, walked out and headed towards the building where he was, which the General exited to receive the young woman who had begun to run.
“Jesus no!” shouted the General as he saw the six-feet four, two-hundred and fifty pounds Hammer Head exit the Command Centre. Hammer sported a large Afro and an equally unkempt large beard with side burns and moustache and wore an Army camouflage outfit. The General watched him level his M16 at the woman and let go a burst of fire power that threw the woman into the air. She fell to the ground dead. Blood gushed from the many bullet wounds to her once lovely body.
The General reached for his weapon. In his excitement he had left the building without one. Hammer Head looked at the General and let out a loud, boisterous laugh then ran into the Command Centre and closed the door. Defeated yet again, the General knew that his last resort was to contact The President.
. . .
The President eased his way out of bed, put on his blue silk robe, then made his way to the Chief of Staff’s office to accept the telephone call. Not wanting to wake his wife as she would have to get up early to make her flight, he walked quietly to the Chief of Staff’s office because he was dressed in pajamas and robe; he deemed the Oval Office too sacred of a space to violate dressed as he was. Two secret service agents accompanied him to the office. One sat in a chair outside while the other entered the room with The President.
“Go ahead General,” The President said into the telephone as he took a seat behind the Chief of Staff’s desk.
“Mr. President, we have a problem. There’s a private aircraft headed towards NORAD.”
“You have your orders. Shoot the goddamn thing out of the air!” shouted The President.
“Mr. President, it’s Icarus.”
“Icarus? Who the hell is Icarus?” asked The President. He scratched his head in search of an explanation as to why the Icarus might warrant special treatment and the waking up of a president who had just gotten to sleep.
“It’s the private plane of John Theodore Baronford. He’s the son of the industrialist czar.”
“Oh my, God! Have you tried talking to him?” The President was anxious.
“Yes, Mr. President. He thinks this is some kind of joke or something. He refused to acknowledge our transmission until I spoke to him personally.”
“How close is he?” asked The President.
“Too close, I’m afraid.”
The President held the telephone but did not speak. He directed the secret service agent to go to the Oval Office and bring him an 8-track tape from his middle desk drawer.
“General, is there anything you can do to turn him around?”
“No, Mr. President. I imagine by now they have seen the silos and the missiles.”
“General, we are trying to save a nation. If they take pictures of those silos and get them to the Press, it will throw this nation into a panic like we’ve not seen since the attack on Pearl Harbor. I can’t have that. We can’t have that. The country can’t have that. General, you know what to do.” The President’s voice was barely audible.
“Mr. President, we both know his father. It’s his only son. Can’t we survive this? We can get our press people on drafting a response that will appease the American people.”
“General, you ask too much of our people. I am so sorry a group of criminals have chosen to kill the only son of a great American. You have your orders. Now carry them out. May God give you strength and may God save America.”
“Mr. President, please!” The General was hysterical.
The secret service agent returned with the tape. The President pointed at the player on top the credenza and the agent walked over to it, turned it on and inserted the tape. The tape was a sermon by the great preacher Alexander Campbell. It had been made at a “reading” which The President had performed by the great spiritualist, Edgar Cayce, known affectionately as “the sleeping prophet.”
The President sought a word from beyond to comfort him when he had been sworn in as President and now he always listened to the tape whenever he had a difficult decision to make or when he faced a difficult and absorbing challenge. Usually, The President would enjoy the tape with his good friend, Jack Daniel – but not this morning when The President was so close to disaster.
Although he had no sons, just two daughters, he knew the value of a son – particularly an only son. He had led the fight in Congress to exempt from combat those sons who were the sole male heir of their families. Yet, he could not disregard the recklessness of John Theodore Baronford. This selfish, rebellious kid posed a serious threat to the security of the nation.
Thus, whether rich or poor, his actions could not be ignored. Ah, the pain inflicted by impetuous youth. Discipline was needed if The President was to remain an effective Commander in Chief. It was to that goal, that he now issued his final decision to The Air Force General.
“General, I am sorry. These are times that try men’s souls. You and I are where we are because we have what it takes to do what must be done. History will vindicate us. God will forgive us. There is nothing more to say. Go and do what you have been trained to do. May God have mercy on us. Remember, we can do this. We must do this.”
The President did not wait for a response. He hung up the telephone as Alexander Campbell began to speak.
“In today’s word, we explore what Jesus meant when he told us to pray that God’s kingdom would come to earth. What did Jesus Christ mean by those words? What do we mean today when we say that the manifest destiny of those who landed at Plymouth Rock was to erect the Kingdom of God on the soil of this place called America?
“I am reminded of a story with which you are all no doubt familiar. In the story, Jack and the Beanstalk, Jack’s mother throws away three beans which Jack has purchased with their last resources. Jack is told that the beans are magical and will transform their impoverished condition into a better life. Jack’s mother rejects the vision and throws the beans outside in anger. Thereafter, unknown to Jack and his mother, and without their assistance, the beans take root and grow into a giant beanstalk that reaches into the heavens.
“Jack climbs this new growth and finds the riches he had hoped for. Later, however, Jack is forced to cut down the beanstalk to kill the giant whose treasure Jack has seized and the story ends.
“I believe this story offers a fitting analogy to the history of Christianity in this place called America. For those who left Europe and came to this land, came with not much more than their faith and hope in the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. They believed that if they could but worship this Trinity in freedom, they could transform their lives and their world. In their anger at their motherland which had imprisoned them, they planted their hopes in the soils of America and hoped that the Kingdom of God would emerge there from.
“The people believed in God. They all knew that it was God who had given them the three beans. It was God who guided them over the ocean of discontent to the present land. They called the active presence of God in their lives and history Providence and recognized that God had a plan for them and this vast land of opportunity.
“Yes, the people loved God and surrendered themselves to become God’s chosen ministers. For they hoped, no believed, that the kingdom was a stairway to Heaven which they could climb – a stairway rooted in earth but extending to the heavens.
“For a while, the kingdom grew and the people were happy. Without warning, a giant appeared in the form of the Native Americans. The people struggled to find a way to at first convert the giant, then avoid it, then finally to slay it without destroying the kingdom. While this struggle ensued other giants appeared such as slavery and the Enlightenment with its call to reason.
“Unfortunately, the struggle against the Native Americans and slavery would give rise to America’s original sin – racism. Some of the people worshipped slavery and some of them worshipped the Enlightenment and all of the people were changed. The giant of slavery persuaded some of the people to turn their ships of freedom into ships of bondage and so they went to Mother Africa and robbed her of her children and brought them to America and made them slaves.
“The giant of the Enlightenment persuaded many of the people that they should use their minds more than their hearts. He also taught them that they could govern themselves – that they needed neither kings nor ministers. Thus, the people began to discover differences among them and to form communities they called denominations so that like could be with like. Eventually, the people decided that to free themselves of the giants they had to chop down their kingdom and to replace it with democratic ideals so that they could live together under the sun of pluralism.
“Unknown to the people, there was a force that tended to the stump abandoned by them and caused it to grow again. One morning the people awoke to find that the kingdom was as alive as ever and once again it reached into the heavens. This Great Awakening caused a new hope to spread throughout the land as a new crop of stewards put wheels on the pulpit and carried it to the far reaches of the ever expanding landscape. It seemed that the story would be a happy one though the end was not yet upon them. The people believed that they could have all the riches of the new land and so they marched westwards towards their manifest destiny.
“When the people had cut down the kingdom before, the force of its falling to the ground caused a fissure in the earth. The people called this fissure individualism. Occasionally, this fissure would cause the earth to tremble and the people called these earthquakes wars. The first Great War came during which the people threw off their yoke to the motherland and decided that they could govern themselves and so they established their own government.
“Even though many of them decided that they no longer needed the kingdom, a compromise was reached and they agreed to erect a wall between the kingdom and their new government. This caused yet another fissure in the earth and when the people discovered it they called it secularism. This fissure, however, did not cause earthquakes, it caused storms.
“It wasn’t long before the giants of Enlightenment and slavery moved the people to split the nation which aggravated both fissures until a storm of controversy and acrimony enveloped the land and the people found that their differences were bigger than denominations and so they invented other names to call themselves – like liberals, evangelicals, fundamentalists; and then came an earthquake and the people found themselves at war with each other.
“Both giants were slain in the war – but they had spawned children. Some of these children were called prejudice and some racists but all discriminated. Nevertheless, the land was at peace and the people thought that was a good thing so they agreed to let the children of the giants remain so long as they were separated into their own communities for that’s the way God wanted it and again the people slept.
“Like before, they were awakened but this time it was by a call from across the ocean to come to the aid of a world at war. The people heeded the call and boarded their ships and went to war. Then God gave victory to the European nations and the people returned home and discovered a new giant had invaded their land – technology. This was a good giant who had come to make their land even better and to make their chores less taxing – or so the people told themselves.
“It wasn’t long before technology became like a God to the people and the people bowed down to it and threw out their ministers from their honoured places in academia and replaced them with business persons and technocrats.
“The people were happy and literally kicked up their heels as the Roaring 20's ushered in a new age and the liberals began to be heard above the crowd as the evangelicals and the fundamentalists beat upon the wall which had been built to separate the kingdom of God from government – but the liberals strengthened the wall and this caused the fissure of secularism to exhale a wind that began to move gently over the land at first but then turned into a violent storm during the Sixties.
“All was well until the ocean swelled and another giant emerged in Europe and beckoned the world to war and again the people went and the liberals’ voice was silenced because their God had not protected us from the giant and the Day of Infamy. It was on the beaches of Normandy that the world’s masses learned the eternal truth that to war against America is to war against God for America is the City of God so prophetically envisioned by Augustine. An assault on America is an assault on God. On that blood drenched shore did the people come to learn that as the cannons roared, Heaven trembled.
“Then the war ended and the people returned to discover another giant had been born out of the war effort – women’s liberation. This giant could not be isolated or slain because it had fathered children among the people and these could not be easily identified and so the people called for a prophet to protect them from the giant who threatened the orthodoxy of their great Book. It wasn’t long before Youth for Christ gave birth to the prophet Billy Graham who again sought to awaken the people to the glorious light of the Kingdom of God.
“Just as he was about to conquer the times, the fissure of individualism gave a violent tremble and caused an earthquake that caused the war in South-east Asia and thus the people awoke to a truth that the kingdom was far behind the wall they had erected and they wondered if God was dead. The Time said he was.
“But then someone found Jesus and the people were happy again but not the same kind of happiness as before for now the evangelicals’ voice was heard above the crowd. Yet the wall was ever higher for as the people fought in Vietnam the fissure of secularism sent a storm of atheism that took the people to court and forced them to remove their God from school and other public institutions. Still the people were happy when peace came even though the kingdom was now hidden behind a wall. Thus, like Jack and his mother, they sat down in their houses to a warm evening meal. But unlike Jack and his mother, this was not the end. It was a new and dreadful beginning.
“Despite their errors and the giants slain along the way and treasures taken, always the people have had their eyes on God. They have ever been motivated by doing their part to bring the Kingdom of God to earth. Tough choices have had to be made. Sacrifices have had to be given on the bonfires of the vanities. Tough choices will have to be made in the future and lives sacrificed on the altar of democracy. With each new storm, with each new fissure, when hard and difficult choices were made, there was always a new beginning. With each new beginning the Kingdom of God has come closer to earth in this place called America! Thy Kingdom come – earth to Heaven, Heaven to earth.”
. . .
John heard neither the sermon that The President heard nor the desperate pleadings of The General of the Air Force. All he heard was his own heart pounding in excitement as he saw the opened silos and the missiles whose noses pointed towards the heavens.
No wonder then that he neither heard nor saw the black bird which now positioned itself before him as the early morning rays bounced off its metallic surface. He and his fellow travellers had their eyes fixed on the ground as flashcubes flickered inside the airplane unaware of the Phantom of the morning which let off its own flash. The ensuing explosion tore the lightweight plane into a million pieces. The pieces had hardly touched the ground before the nation’s news wires began to hum out the headline:
SON OF INDUSTRIAL CZAR AND THREE FRIENDS KILLED IN EARLY MORNING PLANE CRASH IN COLORADO MOUNTAINS.
The details of a heavy fog and an attempted military rescue would follow. In three days, another headline would capture these same wires:
INDUSTRIAL CZAR WINS MASSIVE GOVERNMENT CONTRACT.
. . .
There was no sun peering through a window to alert Fredda and Diggs that morning was at hand. They did not need it for the Doctor’s fear had returned and he now sat on the side of the bed. He looked around the room and then fixed his gaze on two rooms: one with a star on it and the other one labelled — “Peevey’s Latrine.”
He rushed to the latter and fell to his knees over the toilet, emptying his discomfort into it. After a few minutes, assured that more was not forthcoming, he flushed the toilet, stood up next to the metal sink, washed out his mouth before throwing a little water on his face which he dried hurriedly with a paper towel, and returned to the bed where he laid beside Fredda.
“There is something I need to tell you,” he said.
“Please, don’t say anything,” pleaded Fredda as she turned to face Diggs. “Don’t spoil what we had last night with talk.” She too now worried about what would happen next as she recalled the discussion about Hammer Head.
The Doctor took her into his arms and she resisted slightly. She soon relented. This lover in the bowels of the earth was no Mary McCarthy and the Doctor was not wearing a Brooks Brothers’ shirt. It was not an act of charity for her to give herself to him again as morning breath met morning breath and they tried to forget about Hammer Head. They knew as they lost themselves in each other’s arms that soon the radio would be blaring and they had better have a plan. They had none. All they had they now shared with each other. Hammer Head faded from their consciousness.
. . .
Hammer Head was perplexed as he watched The General of the Air Force walking towards the command post with a M16 in one hand and a grenade launcher in the other. The General was about a hundred yards away when he fired off a volley of grenades that blew open the door and blew out the windows. Hammer Head dived under a nearby table for cover as the remaining hostages, some wounded, suffered additional injuries and his two soldiers were killed instantly. Hostages ran, crawled and leaped towards the open door. Hammer Head got up and ran behind them until he was at the door. He allowed the last hostage to exit before he emptied his clip into The General, throwing the limp mass about fifty yards backwards.
A group of soldiers then exited the replacement Command Centre and rushed toward him. He pulled the trigger again and heard only a desperate click. He threw the gun at the running hostages and then ran for the door leading to the bunker below. He opened it as hot lead tore through his back.
The hot metal invading his body did not startle him as did the realization that in his panic he had forgotten to disarm the booby trap he had set to prevent an overthrow of the Command Centre and a breach of the underground sanctuary.
A wry grin covered his face as the force of the ensuing blast severed it from his shoulder and threw it as well as many of the soldiers behind him a thousand ways to death. A thick, black cloud escaped into the morning air. Suddenly the sun disappeared.
The cloud caused the captain of the Tereus to take evasive action which elicited loud outbursts of cursing from his two passengers. All of them fought at the misty fallout on their windows that prevented their being able to see immediately what the explosion was they had heard and from whence had come this cloud which they had not been warned of. Soon, the pilot would know and then his passengers would. They would all learn that the disaster which was heaven bound was not nearly the tragedy of the one on the ground.
. . .
The officers from Chicago and the Wife heard the explosion which rocked the room in which they lay sleeping and tossed them from their beds onto the floor. They jumped up and dressed in less than three minutes and ran the almost hundred yards to the makeshift Command Centre.
Upon their arrival, they got a quick glance of the mayhem outside and heard the cries and moans of the injured and dying before they were grabbed from behind and carried away from the scene by military security officers. They were taken to a room without windows, thrown in with the door slammed in their inquiring faces. Each in turn beat upon the door and screamed expletives which are not germane to our narrative and thus are not repeated here.
. . .
It could have been a scene from Grand Central Station on a Monday morning. Perhaps even a chapter from Kafka’s “The Castle,” or a scene from the epic war adventure, “Hell is for Heroes.”
Instead, it was the aftermath of a most destructive explosion. The stench of death and dying pervaded the air and mixed with the agony of seared flesh. Medics busied themselves with the injured while a disposal detail identified and sacked the dead. A priest, a rabbi, and a preacher gave last rites to the dying. All of them worked in and out of the nearly half-mile deep and two football fields in circumference crater left by the blast. Those who entered the crater had to wear special nuclear contamination resistant clothing.
The Command Centre was completely demolished – gone. Overhead, a dark, mushroom shaped cloud hung like the drapes of Dracula’s bed chamber, blocking out the early morning sun and forcing the eyes of the living to work beyond their capacity. Their work was made all the more taxing by orders that none of the wounded or dead, not even the dying, could be removed from NORAD.
Back at the make-shift Command Centre, pandemonium prevailed as soldiers and airmen tried to make sense of what had happened amidst the confusion of who was in charge now that the General of the Air Force had been killed. Every telephone line was busy with chatter back and forth between the Command Centre and the White House and the Pentagon.
It was into this tumult that Shannon, wearing a three-piece Petrocelli charcoal grey suit, and Rodney, dressed in a lime-green Nehru collared leisure suit with a peace sign made out of shoe laces draped around his neck, entered. When they stepped inside, Shannon first and then Rodney, an E.F. Hutton moment ensued as silence engulfed the room and all movement came to a halt.
“People, listen up. My name is Shannon McMillan. I am here on orders of The President. I am now in charge. Let me see all officers above the rank of Captain over here right now! As you were to everyone else.” Shannon spoke loud and forcefully. The noise and clatter resumed.
A major general, a brigadier general, a colonel, and two lieutenant colonels – all air force officers, came forward. The Major General spoke first, “Do you have anything in writing showing your authority?”
“Yes I do,” answered Shannon. He reached into his inside pocket and extracted a letter which he handed to the Major General who read it and passed it along to the other officers. The last officer handed the letter to Rodney who read it also and then returned it to Shannon.
“Where’s The General of the Air Force?” asked Shannon.
“Sorry Sir, he didn’t make it,” answered the Major General. “He tried to recapture the Command Centre and was gunned down in the attempt. General Dashel, the commanding officer here was killed during the explosion after he had gone after the General of the Air Force.”
“Never before have I heard of so many good men being killed so early in combat,” responded Shannon. He turned to face everyone in the room and said, “Listen up, people!”
Shannon continued, “The General of the Air Force has been killed in action. I know of no man who has brought such honour and distinction to the military uniform than my late friend. Let’s observe a moment of silence in his honour. It seems like only yesterday that he and I were fighting side by side in Africa against overwhelming forces. How swiftly do our yesterdays fade away.”
Silence engulfed the room. Some bowed their heads. Others stared blankly ahead.
“Okay, people, as you were!” ordered Shannon. The room returned to its former state.
Shannon turned his attention to the officers standing before him. “Okay men, we have got to seize control of this situation. Major General, you will be the new commanding officer here and my chief of staff. Brigadier General, you will be the Major General’s chief of staff and in charge of the new Command Centre. I want you to take charge now and get it restored to order. I also want you to set me up an office with a secured line where I can talk to The President. I want it functional in 10 minutes!
“Colonel, I want you to take charge of casualties. The two lieutenant colonels can be your assistants. Put one in charge of the dead and the other in charge of the living. I don’t want anyone leaving this place or coming into it without my express authorization. “Brigadier General, I want you to also make sure we have complete closure of this facility. I don’t want any airplanes, helicopters or birds flying over this place. Any questions?”
There were none. Shannon continued, “Okay men, let’s get to it. Major General, show me what we’re facing.”
“Just a minute, Sir,” cautioned the Major General. He looked across the room and beckoned for a First Sergeant to come to him.
“Sir, we need to get into some protective clothing.” The Major General removed his jacket and Shannon did likewise. Rodney followed. Soon, all three were dressed in white protective suits brought over by the First Sergeant and his assistants. The Major General and Shannon headed out of the building.
“What about me?” asked Rodney.
Shannon stopped in his tracks and faced Rodney. “What do you mean?”
“What am I to do?”
“Your time will come soon. Right now, just hang close to me,” said Shannon. He resumed his hurried walk behind the Major General. Rodney fell in behind them.
“What is that?” exclaimed Shannon as he beheld the crater left by the explosion. The Major General pointed to the dark, ominous cloud overhead but did not speak.
Shannon studied the cloud with meticulous care. He then surveyed the crater.
“That is where the Command Centre once was,” offered the Major General. He gave Shannon a quick summary of what had happened.
“What made them blow themselves up?” Shannon asked.
“I don’t know, Sir,” answered the Major General. “Maybe they did not want to be taken alive. Or, it could be they are buying time for those in the bunker to launch the missiles.”
“Okay, I need to report to The President. Do we still have visual of all the silos?”
“No,” answered the Major General in a dejected tone. “We had to ground our reconnaissance aircraft because of that cloud.”
“Okay, here’s what I want you to do. Get a team of your best men and issue them a lasso and a tool box and have one of each to stand next to a silo. Be sure that they stay out of the vision of the monitors.”
“Tool box, lasso? What on earth for?” The Major General was incredulous.
Shannon was not disarmed by the General’s questions. Like a competent and patient instructor, he answered, “Trust me on this General. It worked for Kubrick; it’ll work for us. You better get started.”
The Major General, accustomed to following orders he did not comprehend, turned and headed towards the makeshift Command Centre after giving Shannon a quick salute. Shannon returned the salute. Before following the general, Shannon turned to Rodney and said, “Rodney, see that silo over there?”
Shannon pointed to it and said, “See over there. Just follow my finger.”
“I see it. What about it?”
“I want you to stand by it and try to get a message to the people in the bunker. Let them know that we are not responsible for the blast, and that we are still considering their offer.”
Rodney looked perturbed. “How the hell am I supposed to do that?”
“I don’t know. Be creative like you were in Memphis. Hell, jump up and down, move your lips, maybe they can read your lips. Just try to get their attention.”
Rodney estimated the distance to the silo to be a little over a mile. He scratched his head and asked, “How the hell am I supposed to get over there?”
“We can’t risk a vehicle until we know how stable the ground is. You can run. You look to be in pretty good shape to me. C’mon, Rodney, I really need your help.”
Rodney stared at Shannon and said, “I know who you are. You are the clean-up man aren’t you?”
“The who?” Shannon grew increasingly impatient.
“The clean-up man. You’re the one America sends all over the world to clean up the messes it gets into. You are the one who assassinated Diem in Vietnam when he decided not to play ball with America any more, aren’t you?”
“Diem? Man, where do you get your info?”
Yes, you’re the guy I’ve heard about. We studied some of your exploits in my civil disturbance class at the academy.”
“Look, we are wasting precious time. Will you please get over to that silo before a missile is launched?” Shannon started after the General.
“And what the hell am I supposed to do if it is launched?” Rodney called after Shannon as the latter’s pace quickened. “I’m no cowboy!”
Shannon’s patience with Rodney was about expired. Still, he needed the young man’s help. He summoned the strength he received while working across cultural and language differences in the Middle East as he stopped, turned to face Rodney, and then pleaded, “Look my friend, we are trying to save a nation here. Work with me on this. I guarantee you all your questions will be answered in time.”
Rodney stood for a few more minutes before trotting off towards the silo. When he got there, he stood before it and started jumping up and down and waving his hands.
. . .
Derrick Hunter watched the flock of geese exit the ominous cloud and approach where he lay hiding in a bush. It was a ritual he performed every year about this time as the flock headed for the California coastline. Last year he had gotten off a volley of shots only to nab one of them as the rest flew on in mocked laugher.
His buddies laughed at him and continued to bring the matter up whenever they had a few beers. Derrick decided to come alone this year. He commenced firing a little earlier than ordinary in case the flock elevated its altitude and speed.
Derrick raised his 30.06 and fired. There was a loud squawk and within a few seconds a goose fall from the sky and landed right before him. The victorious hunter felt his heart race as his breathing got heavier in anticipation of another hit. He raised his gun again and fired. This time, two geese fell, then another and another and another until all the geese had fallen on top of Derrick and crushed him into the ground on which he had lain in wait of his quarry. He would not emerge to enjoy his Herculean feat.
. . .
Farmer Jack awoke to the aroma of the Maxwell House Coffee emanating from the kitchen. He got up and walked to the bathroom while he rubbed the remaining droplets of sleep from his eyes. Once there, he relieved himself of the night’s deposits into his bladder. Hurriedly, he brushed his teeth with Crest and gargled with Listerine. Finally, he threw a few handfuls of water on his face and dried it with a face towel which his wife purchased from her Fingerhut catalogue. Refreshed and ready to tackle another day, he made his way to the breakfast table.
“Ma, didn’t hear the cock crow dis morning. You?” Farmer Jack said as he entered the kitchen and took his seat at the table.
“Naw Pa, not a thang,” his wife answered. She batted her new Max Factor eyelashes but her husband was staring at his plate and did not notice them.
“Ma, I see my Jimmy Dean sausage, my Aunt Jemima grits, my homemade biscuits and gravy and my fresh squeezed orange juice. I even see my Maxwell House Coffee. But where’s my eggs?”
Ma moved from the stove closer to the table. She batted her eyes again and answered, “Ain’t none, Pa. Not a single egg this morning.”
For the first time since sitting down, Pa looked up from his plate. “What’s ya mean no eggs? Ya mean ta tell me outta 140 chickens not a single god blasted egg?”
“That’s right, Pa. Not a single egg.” His wife batted her eyes even more.
“Ya don’t think it’s that new Avon parfum you been wearing do ya, Ma?”
“C’mon Pa. You know Avon is the best. I told ya we should’ve moved away like everyone else. It’s that darn Army base again.”
“It’s Air Force, Ma. Where’s the butter? Pa looked around the table. There was neither butter nor milk.
“No eggs, no butter, no milk, Pa.” Ma batted her eyes even more.
“Maybe I better go see for maself.” Pa got up from the table and went outside. Ma followed him.
“If tat don’t beat all!” he exclaimed as he saw the ominous cloud hovering over the Cheyenne Mountain. He pulled his wife into the house and went to the telephone. It was dead.
He then heard a thunderous explosion from outside. He and Ma ran together to the front porch to see all of their chickens, hogs, cattle and horses rushing toward the farmhouse. They had busted out the sides of the barns and crashed through the corral. Pa looked up in bewilderment at his wife’s new eyelashes. It was the last thing he saw before he and she were trampled under hoofs.
The stampede continued into and over the farmhouse. It collapsed and great was the fall of it! However, since none were present but these beasts of burden and they were of another mind, the Commissioners debated at length whether the crash made a sound.
. . .
The President fell into his chair behind the desk in the Oval Office. The report to which he was listening added tons of weight to the heavy burdens which already weighted down his shoulders. His legs gave way and into his chair he fell. He motioned for those in the room with him to leave. All complied and moved out of the room swiftly. Two secret service agents stood watch at the door to prevent anyone from disturbing The President.
It is said that God does not give one more than one can bear. If such is true, then God must think a lot of The President. For this man’s burdens could rival those of Atlas. Moses, even in the face of a disgruntled mass and a disruption of nature, could not have been as burdened as The President now found himself.
Here was a man who had proven to be a capable leader, a public servant, and a true visionary who symbolized all that is supposed to be great for America. Surely he had come from humble beginnings and even now could not afford to live as lavishly as had some of his predecessors. He served his state and now his country with distinction. And what were his rewards: whispers of disgust and inadequacy and charges of being an accidental president.
He lived, worked, and played in the shadow of the young knight from Massachusetts. Try as he would, he could not escape being compared to his most immediate predecessor and found lacking. In vain, he hoped his election as president after finishing out the term of one cut down so soon would dispel the rumours and dissipate the shadow. It had not. People now added to his epithets that he had won the election on a sympathy vote.
No wonder that he seldom left the White House these days. He found it increasingly difficult to face the jeers and the rumours and the violent demonstrations against a war he inherited and now racial violence. Why don’t they blame him? He would often ask himself – he could not bear to say the name. With all that foreshadowed him and compressed him about, he had to listen to the most disheartening of news.
The President leaned forward and propped his head up on his hand which rested on top his desk. With the other hand he rubbed his thinning hair and then his rugged face.
“Mr. President, are you there? General Shannon on line one,” came the voice from the intercom.
“Yea, uh, yes, I’m here,” answered The President as he picked up the receiver.
“What about the missiles?” asked The President who dismissed with formalities and pleasantries. “Are they still intact? Good. What about that cloud?”
He laid his head down on his hand which was now flat on the table and held the telephone with his other hand. He spoke again into the receiver, “Look Shannon, I want you to contain the situation.... You say it contains nuclear waste material? I want you to get rid of that cloud and fast. I don’t care what it takes – get rid of it!”
The President sat up and leaned back in his chair. He tried to raise his feet and prop them on his desk but could not get them to cooperate.
“Shannon, can I depend on you? Okay, good luck and keep me advised. We can do this. We must do this.”
The President hung up the telephone. He stared straight ahead. Fear and trembling took hold of him at the thought of having to make the journey to the home of the wife of the General of the Air Force and break yet another heart. At present, the strength he needed to accomplish his task escaped him.
He sat there and stared straight ahead wondering why history, time, fate, God, or whoever or whatever governs the universe had dealt him so terrible a hand. Unlike poker which he loved to play, he could not throw in his hand and hope for a better one on the next deal. There would be no more deals! When this hand was over, he would go the way of his fathers.
The President was glad his wife and daughters were not there to see him in such a state of distress. For the only time in his life he was glad he did not have a son. How could he leave a son such an inheritance? He would be glad that his name would end with him and there would be no further offspring to suffer in the shadows as he had to do.
The President closed his eyes. Soon he found himself walking over to the window overlooking the East Lawn and pulling back the curtains to behold a number of spectacles. What wonders they were. People of all races, creeds, nationalities and colors and sexes were walking merrily hand-in-hand. Many others danced around a giant statute of, wait, could it be? Yes, there in the centre of the lawn was a giant statute of The President. The people placed beautiful bouquets of flowers at its base and some even stood silently and prayed. The statute reached into the heavens and people descended it on one side while angels ascended it on the other. There were no shadows, no rumours, no murmurings.
Tears began to trickle then flow from the eyes of The President as he awoke. He felt the strength returning to his legs. He stood up straight without assistance. His tears turned to laughter – loud guffaws of regeneration.
“Mr. President! Mr. President!” The two secret service agents burst into the room and ran over to where The President stood. They thought he might fall but The President raised his hand, halting them in their tracks.
The President reached down and flipped a switch on the intercom which alerted his Chief of Staff and commanded, “Get my crisis team in here right away!”
The Secret Service Agents were glad to see The President display signs of life again. Silently, they returned to their post at the door.
With renewed energy, The President now knew what he had to do. The message of his transfiguration now saturated his essence. He sat down at his desk, grabbed pen and paper and scribbled a poem to commemorate the light to which he had come:
Dark Day In Dallas
Fate finds ways to thwart
the destruction of man--
to prolong the ideal
long after the body has been
put to rest.
Thus it was – that on that
Dark Day in Dallas –
when destruction ran rampant
and many a head was bowed
and eyes watered –
where the flame of hope was
doused briefly by an
insignificant hand of terror.
There, amidst the darkness of despair
emerged the Light of the Great Society!
“What is his trip? Is he drunk, crazy or what?” shouted Diggs as the generators kicked on and pierced the darkness in which he and Fredda had been enveloped for what seemed like hours. The monitors also came on, one of which showed Rodney jumping up and down.
“Looks like he's trying to give us a message,” answered The Queen. She felt relieved at this sign of hope. She moved closer to the monitor and took hold of The Doctor's hand.
The Doctor looked into the soft yet deep eyes of Fredda and smiled. He pulled her closer to him and gave her a passionate side hug as they gazed on the excited Rodney. Neither of them could read his lips nor understand whatever message it was he was trying to convey. They reasoned that it was a far better message than the one they had received earlier that morning.
It was then they were locked in passion when they were suddenly thrown to the floor by a violent blast. Dust particles came through the door facing and then the room went dark – darker than ever Diggs and Fredda had seen it. The monitors went dead. The refrigerator stopped humming. There was nothing but silence and darkness.
The Doctor got up off the floor. He felt for Fredda with one hand while feeling for the bed with the other. Once they were sitting on the side of the bed, Diggs fumbled his way to the table where the first monitor and keypad were and found the Assistant’s cigarette lighter which he used to light some candles. He took six, gave Fredda six, and placed six around the radio and telephone. The latter was useless as he noticed the wires on both the radio and telephoned were fused together as if they had been in a fire. Unable to make sense of the morning, Diggs and Fredda went into the bathrooms carrying candles, showered and got dressed.
They were concerned and near terror. Each hoped the shower would help. It did not. Once dressed, they met again at the bed and tried to understand what had happened. They both agreed that Hammer Head must have forgotten about the explosives which they had sat to prevent a breach of the bunker and in his rage, had set it off. However, they could not understand why the radio and telephone were dead and their lights off. So they decided, again together, that the military was taking advantage of the situation and was trying to get to them.
“What if Hammer Head did not forget about the bomb?” Diggs asked as he and Fredda sat at a nearby table across from each other. “What if he thought he had disarmed it?”
“That wouldn’t surprise me at all,” said Fredda. “He wasn’t all that bright to begin with and his anger probably got the best of him.”
Diggs took hold of her outstretched hand. “No, that’s not what I mean. What if the assistant didn’t intend for us to ever leave this place? What if he set the bomb to explode no matter what happened?”
“I don’t think so. You never burn a bridge you might have to cross. That door is the only way out of here. Blow the shaft and this bunker becomes a grave,” reasoned Fredda.
“You blow the bridge if you want to discourage retreat. We may have misjudged the Assistant.” Diggs let go of Fredda’s hand. They both pondered this latest development. Terror took hold of them.
Exhausted, their well of faith evaporated, they decided to fire the missiles. In their flickering candle light, these two people who only minutes earlier had deplored violence, decided to commit an act most violent. They were preparing to type in the last line of command when the monitors came on again. How swiftly does the human species metamorphose at the least provocation?
Yet, we should not rush so soon to judgement. For what else could they have done? Had not Malcolm X hit the proverbial nail on the head when he called for the ballot or the bullet? Once Blacks were given the vote, had not a persistently evil nation responded with all types of electoral reforms: poll taxes, literacy tests, political parties, and the like?
What is there left to do in a democracy when an entire people are disenfranchised merely on the basis of their skin color but resort to violence? Even if there is no way that they can win? Is not there a point at which victory becomes too costly? Surely guerrilla warfare thrives on the notion that not every society is willing to achieve a pyrrhic victory – that there are some prices which are too high to pay for victory.
Of what value is it to win a city that lay in ruins? Even if one cannot win a violent confrontation, one can exact such a price on one’s opponents as to win some degree of concessions. Or, one can go gracefully down with the ship knowing that one has had a hand in the sinking.
Perhaps that is what motivated the Assistant. It may be that there was in fact some order to his chaos. That he reasoned that if he took the roar of destruction beyond the borders of the ghetto, where most riots had been contained, then he could exact some concessions from America for his people – even if he did not know what those concessions might be. After all, he had struck at the military power of America and had assaulted the very thing which lies at the heart of a democracy – freedom.
People were no longer free to move about the country as they desired. Social functions and family gatherings had been cancelled for fear of violence. He had even forced Wall Street to close for three days. The assistant created an atmosphere of fear that swarmed across the land like a horde of locusts across the good earth. Why not seal his own death?
No doubt the assistant knew his death was imminent; perhaps he wanted his closest associates to die with him for some reason unknown to us. Did he consider himself in need of companions to accompany him in moving from this world to the next? Had he judged the earth and found it ripe for destruction and appointed himself to execute the sentence? Was the assistant capable of such idolatry?
Diggs and Fredda had more questions than answers. We can only surmise. Granted, these ideals and the questions they engender are beyond the competency of our actors. Nevertheless, the reality of truth depends not on the recognition of humans. The old adage that what you don’t know won’t hurt you is a fraud. A blind man walking and not aware of the pit before him will surely perish when he steps into it. That he is not aware of the danger in his path is not a shield to his imminent death. The obverse is also true. People may be moved by ideals and act accordingly even if they are unaware of the path those ideals will take them.
Thus, as Diggs and Fredda struggled in the darkness which was pierced here and there by the flickering candles, they were moved by high ideals to first salvage then destroy an unrepentant nation. Until the lights went out, they lacked the resolve, perhaps even the courage, to fire the missiles. Desperate times demand desperate measures. They were desperate. How desperate they were!
Their divergent paths crossed in the person of the assistant and in the process they were changed forever. Each had been forced to face truths from which they had hid all their lives. Now, convinced of the Assistant’s cause, even as they continued to question the methods the assistant chose to further his cause, they were desperate to strike back at this nation which kept slapping them in the face at every turn. They wanted to stop the laughter, the jeers, and the derision they faced each day as they moved about a land which judged people merely on the basis of the color of their skin – a factor over which persons of color had no choice. One does not decide which color or which country one is born into. In fact, despite the Mormons’ persistent declaration to the contrary, one does not even decide to be born.
Our actors knew the reality of their oppression. Each of them had sought to deal with it in a separate way. Fredda by withdrawing from “polite society” and Diggs by embracing it. Fredda hoped that by not competing in the marketplace with whites that they would ignore her, except the night hours when lust knows no prejudice.
Diggs hoped he could demonstrate that he was no threat to whites, and that he was a loyal member of a Black middle class which sought to preserve the color line imposed by whites. Both of them accepted their status as victims and in so doing found themselves in the never ending spiral of the self-fulfilling prophecy.
Unfortunate as it was for them, but quite fortunately for future generations, the assistant had breached their comfort zones. The Assistant, like the marauding barbarians that forced Europe out of the Dark Ages into the Renaissance and then the Age of Enlightenment, forced Diggs and Fredda out of their comfort zones and into a direct confrontation with a reality they had each sought to avoid in their own way.
The assistant though was not a conscious catalyst. He did not sit down and design how his forlorn journey would end. Beyond the recruitment of gang members in Chicago and the sacking of several military facilities to secure weapons, the assistant had no master plan – no idea to bring into reality. Though he had done much, he was more acted upon than actor.
Who then is the author of this tale of woe? For there is no grand design – no master script to which we all must pay obedience. There is no director shouting commands at us. We are free to choose and we are the conglomeration of the choices we have made and failed to make.
Again, Diggs and Fredda had no knowledge of these ideals as they tried to comprehend whatever it was Rodney was trying to convey to them. The result of all of this is that they decided not to type in the fifth line. Instead, they agreed to wait and see if America would finally do the right thing.
Rodney looked silly to the uninformed passer-by. Yet, he was the best hope America had at the time to avert a national disaster. As he jumped up and down, he gave Fredda and Diggs pause in their actions and revived in them a hope that they might just live to see another day.
. . .
Shannon hung up the telephone with The President. He exited the hurriedly put together office and summoned the Major General.
“General, I want you to gather every available helicopter from here and Peterson and every available jet engine from here and wherever else. Once you have them, get all available mechanics to mount the engines on top half of the helicopters and on the side of the other half. I need this done within the hour. Then, have those with the engines on top to space out evenly under the cloud and those with the engines on the side to space out evenly around the perimeter of the cloud.”
“What on earth are you planning to do?” questioned the General. He was both bewildered and admiring.
“I intend to blow that damn cloud to high heaven!” exclaimed Shannon.
“I’m not sure we can get and mount those engines and have them operational in so short a time period,” warned the General.
“General, you know what separates a major general from a lieutenant general?”
“A star,” answered the General.
“No sir, a can-do attitude. I’m asking you to have such an attitude now and get your mission accomplished.”
“Yes sir.” The General saluted and left.
Shannon walked over to a table where a group of airmen were huddled around the Brigadier General. He did not wait for a pause in the discussion; instead he pushed his way into the circle and said, “Brigadier General, I want you to put together a detail with protective gear and form a one-hundred mile buffer zone around this base. I want you to search every tree, every dwelling, and every puddle of water for any sign of contamination. Every foul thing must be removed. Understand?”
The Brigadier General looked weary. He was already burdened by the previous task and this most recent task sounded doubly taxing. Still, being bred and trained in the art of obedience, he could only say, “Yes, sir.”
“Does anyone know where I can get some poster boards and Marks-A-Lot?”
“Yes, sir. I’ll get it for you right away,” volunteered a young airman first class. He disappeared and returned in a few minutes with the requested items and gave them to Shannon.
Shannon placed a board on the table which the Brigadier General had vacated and hurriedly wrote out a message on it. He handed it to the young airman and said, “Run this over to the fellow outside the silo. Tell him to hold it up to the monitor.”
“Yes, sir,” answered the Airman. Taking the board, he put on a protective suit and disappeared.
Shannon then wrote out another message. When he had finished, he asked, “Have we any earth moving equipment here?”
“Yes, sir, we do,” answered a captain.
“Okay, here is what I want you to do. I want you to get busy on making me a tunnel to the door of that bunker. I want to be able to knock on the door in two hours.”
“Consider it done, sir.” The captain disappeared.
Shannon issued additional orders to several of the men gathered in the Command Centre. However, those orders were not recorded and are not germane enough to merit inventing. What is needed to say here is that all of those present were impressed with the way Shannon handled the disaster which they faced and which so engulfed them. Little did they know that they were witnessing the birth of the Federal Emergency Management Agency (FEMA) – an agency that would make its impact after the opening of the X-Files.
. . .
Such admiration did not register with Fredda and Diggs, however. They were perplexed but were somewhat relieved when they saw Rodney hold up a poster board on which was printed, DO NOT PANIC. WE ARE STILL CONSIDERING YOUR DEMANDS.
After a few minutes, Rodney held up yet another board, WE ARE GOING TO GET A RADIO TO YOU SOON.
Fredda and Diggs read the boards then stared at each other. Relieved, they hugged and jumped up and down and shouted words of victory. There still was not much light in the bunker and so they did not see the blotches that were beginning to break through their skin at various sites. They were happy. Though they were buried nearly two miles beneath the surface of the earth they were happy.
Who could blame them for their joy? Because they were not acting according to a script, they could look “neither out far nor in deep.” All they could see was the moment. This moment looked very bright and promising to them. Well, it is that humans sight be short, else with their worry would they the future thwart.
. . .
“Excuse me, Sir, there are four civilians demanding to see you,” interrupted an Airman.
Shannon looked up from the architectural plans he was reviewing and asked, “Civilians? What on earth are civilians doing here?”
“They’re from Chicago. Three of them are police officers and the fourth claims to be the wife of a doctor who is supposed to be in the bunker with the criminals.”
“Interesting,” responded Shannon. He rubbed his chin as an idea flashed in his head. “Bring them to me,” he directed the Airman who left and within a matter of minutes returned with the dishevelled group.
“Hold it, hold it, hold it! One at a time!” exclaimed Shannon as all four of them spoke simultaneously. They spoke loud and angrily.
“We protest the way we’ve been treated! We are officers of the law of the City of Chicago,” said Blundus.
Shannon was about to speak but Pamela Diggs interrupted, “My husband, where is he? How is he?”
Shannon decided to address the Wife first. “Ma’am, at the moment I have no information on your husband. I cannot even tell you if he is here.”
“Sir, please, I need to know that my husband is all right!” Pamela approached Shannon, fell to her knees and pleaded with him. She grabbed one of his hands and one of his legs while looking into his eyes as tears streamed down her cheeks. Her touches ignited fires of sympathy within Shannon. Still, he was powerless to ease her pain.
He looked into her deep brown eyes as he searched for words to comfort her.
“Look, I have an idea. Hold on a minute.” Shannon struggled free of the firm grips Pamela had on him, got up from his chair and went to the door and called for an airman to bring a couple of poster boards and a Marks-A-Lot. He took them to his desk and wrote hurriedly a message in large print. “IS THERE A DOCTOR AMONG YOU? LOWER THE MISSILE BY ME IF THERE IS.”
“Take these to the fellow outside at the silo. Tell him to hold them up to the monitor and you wait 15 minutes for a response.” Shannon said to the Airman. He paused momentarily to make sure Pamela saw the signs then watched as the Airman exited.
Blundus helped Pamela to her feet. She ushered the limp mass to a nearby chair and sat down beside her. Pamela slouched over and buried her head against Blundus’ chest.
“Okay, how can I help Chicago’s finest?” Shannon asked the officers.
Black and White started to speak. Shannon gave them a stern look and they stopped in mid-sentence. It was White who spoke next.
“The assistant killed one of our officers back in Chicago. We’re here to arrest him. We are also interested in determining whether the doctor is a willing participant or a hostage.”
“I’m afraid you’ll have to wait until we get finished with them. At any rate, if you promise to keep quiet and obey the rules I’ll let you go with me when I make contact with whoever is in that bunker. Agreed?”
“Yes, Sir!” Black and White shouted in unison.
Shannon turned to face Blundus who nodded her consent.
“Okay, find yourselves a chair and you can wait in here. You can sit along the wall so you’ll be out of the way.”
Black and White took up chairs next to Blundus. Shannon reclaimed his seat behind his desk and returned to studying the plans. After a few minutes, White got up and approached the desk.
“Sir, I’d like to make a telephone call to Headquarters to let them know we’re all right,” he said to Shannon who had returned to studying the plans.
Shannon did not look up. He said, “Sorry, can’t allow that right now. But if you will honour our agreement and return to your seat, I will see to it shortly.”
Detective White started to protest. He thought better of it and returned to his seat. About that time there was a knock on the door.
“Enter!” Shannon commanded in a loud, forceful tone of voice.
The Airman who had left with the poster boards entered the room, marched up to the desk and stood at attention.
“At ease, soldier,” ordered Shannon.
“Sir, there was no response.”
“No response, eh? Okay. That’s all. Dismiss.”
The Airman turned to leave. He stopped suddenly and almost fell on his face when he heard Shannon call after him.
“Hold it a minute,” called Shannon. Have the Major General to come here right away. Leave the door open.”
The Airman about faced, and marched out of the office. Shannon returned to his plans.
Pamela sat up in her chair and this allowed Blundus to whisper something into White’s ear as Black leaned over White in an attempt to listen in.
“Are you okay?” Blundus asked as she turned from White to face Pamela. She withdrew her hand from around the now composed wife.
“Yes, I am better,” answered Pamela. She stared at Shannon who continued to review the plans laid out on his desk.
“Well, General, what’s the news?” Shannon asked as the Major General entered the room, approached his desk and sat down next to it.
“Nothing positive, I’m afraid. It’s going to take a couple of hours to get the earth moving equipment up here. Every available C154 is out rounding up jet engines. It takes special trucks to move that equipment. They can go no faster than forty miles an hour, fifty tops. We have helicopters flying in from all over the place. I think we can have all the helicopters outfitted and in place within three hours. We have to bring in engines from as far away as California.”
The Major General looked exhausted. His voice sounded even worst.
“Damn General. We are losing valuable time. I’m worried about the state of mind of those people in the bunker. I don’t want them to go crazy on us. Is there nothing you can do to speed things up?”
“I wish it were, Shannon. But there is not. I’ve stretched our available resources to the limit.”
Shannon fought between telling the General to try harder and accepting his explanation, he knew from experience how short-sighted military men could be; many of whom could not function unless they had the specified tools in the specified quantity and quality. He decided that he needed the General and could not risk pushing him over the edge.
Shannon could tell that the General and most, if not all, of the other men were dangerously close to the edge. That their base had been taken hostage by a group of civilians was taxing enough. Add to that the death of so many good men, the blast and now the ominous cloud and their inability to make contact with their families, and it would not take much for them to find themselves falling off the cliff of sanity. That was a prospect Shannon did not wish to face.
He decided to accept the General’s observations for the moment. “Okay, General, that’s going to put us at mid-afternoon. That’s dangerously close to our deadline. Give me back whatever time you can.”
The General was relieved that Shannon did not push him further. He feared that Shannon would go ballistic. Forcing a smile, he said, “I’ll do my best. There’s one other problem but I think we have it licked.”
“What’s that?” Shannon asked. He sat up straight and waited for more bad news.
“My hazardous materials team tells me we cannot allow the dirt we remove to become airborne. If we do, we risk contaminating the air and a possible need to evacuate large segments of the surrounding population,” explained the General.
Shannon was pleased with the General’s initiative. “What’s your plan?” he asked.
The General noticed the shift in Shannon’s tone and facial expression. He too relaxed somewhat. “We are building a giant tent over the blast area. Once the equipment is inside, the tent will be sealed shut. All personnel will be in specialized suits with oxygen.”
“That’s ingenious! You’re a regular military genius!” exclaimed Shannon.
“Thank you, Sir.” beamed the General.
“One other thing General. I’ve been studying the plans of the bunker. Do you think it could have survived that blast?”
“Yes, Sir. It’s designed to withstand a ground zero hit. It should be intact.”
“Okay. I’ll take your word for it. Dammit, we need to have a word from that bunker! Keep me posted.”
“Will do.” The General got up and left.
. . .
Doctor Diggs sat on the floor of the bunker and watched Rodney as he displayed the two poster boards. He and Fredda had been unable to make it to the bed or a chair as the dust-bound particles of nuclear material invaded then saturated their bodies. He tried to shake Fredda so she could watch but his hands did not respond. His mind and eyes were all that still worked.
Having lost control of his body, Diggs shifted his eyes to his lap in which lay the once beautiful head of Fredda. She was dead. His bunker buddy lived no more. Her cheerful smile was contorted into the kiss of death. The light which once radiated from her face was gone; it was replaced by cankerous sores and the pale of darkness. Her eyes were closed. Her eyelashes and most of her hair were gone. This was hardly the way for one who had come so far to take her leave. Death can be oh so cruel!
Diggs refocused his eyes on the monitor where Rodney was repeating the message of the poster boards. He fixated on the words, “Is there a doctor among you?”
The words reminded him of the time when at age seven his father suffered a heart attack and died in the back seat of their car because the workers at the emergency room of the hospital had refused to come out to the car to help his father inside. They said it was against hospital policy for them to leave the hospital. Upon that occasion, he had shouted to the workers, “Is there a doctor among you?”
There was no answer. He could not understand how a doctor could allow a rule of law to erect a barrier between his oath as physician and a patient needing medical assistance. It was then that he swore he would become a doctor and that he would never refuse treatment to anyone.
The Doctor now wondered why he had not thought at the time his father’s rejection was based upon the fact that he was a Negro. He could not find the strength to ponder the matter. His mind moved on to reflections of how his family had rallied together to run the dry cleaners which his father owned.
This meant that he did not have much of a childhood. All of his time had been spent studying and working at the dry cleaners. As a consequence, he could not play sports, though he excelled in academics and was even elected president of the student body and editor of his high school newspaper. He graduated at the top of his class.
After graduation, he went off to college. It was there that he met the woman who was to become his wife. He then went on to medical school, residency and then private practice. Images of these various moments in his life flashed before his eyes as did the time his telephone at home rang and he answered to discover the assistant on the line.
A cry for help moved him away from anger and disgust. Again, his mind played the scene where he rushed to the Assistant’s apartment and then the journey to NORAD. All was so clear to him now. He understood why he did what he did and how he came to be where he was. He tried but could not smile to celebrate his epiphany. The images stopped and his eyes returned to the monitor.
Diggs moved his glance from the monitor to Fredda. He tried to stroke her face. Still, he could not move his hand. It became obvious to him that his body was dead. All that was left were his mind and his eyes. They returned to the monitor where Rodney again displayed the message. “Is there a doctor among you?” Again, the Doctor tried to force a smile but failed. He gave one last glance to the lump mass in his lap.
A mist appeared before him. Out of it he saw his wife sitting down with tears streaming down her cheeks. He watched a lone tear emerge from his right eye and fall down his cheek. The next sight was a burst of light that invaded his body through his eyes and transported his soul to another sphere. Diggs was no more.
. . .
It is said that when two people get married, they become as one. Perhaps there is some truth to that old axiom which explains why when people have been married for a long time and have had a very close relationship, when one dies the other soon dies. Maybe that is why Juliet could not live without her Romeo nor he without his Juliet. It mattered not that they had been together but a short while – their love for each other was so strong as to reach that state of fusion which take others decades to achieve.
Seldom do those of us who look upon marriage from the outside, perceive such a bond. We are wont to see a couple that argues all the time or spends a lot of time apart or who is beset by all types of problems. We are seldom able to perceive the true depth of a couple’s love and devotion for and to one another. Outsiders look at marriages much the way people looked upon Richard Cory, never quite perceiving the true nature of the beast.
I make these observations at this juncture to lay the foundation for the event that comes next. For it so shocks our sensibilities as to require these introductory comments. We have witnessed from afar the relationship between The Weary Wife and the doctor. Each of them was involved in at least one affair. Notwithstanding these affairs of the heart, Pamela’s concern for her husband is genuine and she now suffers at the depth of her soul.
Such suffering is not apparent to us. Nor was it apparent to Shannon and the Airmen who came in and out of the office with reports of their lack of progress in reaching the bunker. For if they had known about Pamela’s suffering, perhaps they would have spoken more softly where she could not hear. Maybe they would have relocated her or themselves. Yet, they did none of these things. They went about their business as if she was invisible.
She sat there listening to these details of hopelessness until she could take it no longer. Without saying a word, she jumped to her feet simultaneously with the life leaving her husband. It was as if a knife had pierced her heart. In pain and deep agony, she let out a loud, hell shaking scream and ran through the open door.
Pamela continued until she reached the crater into which she dived then started digging with her hands. She was oblivious to the fact that her skin began to burn away and reveal her bones. She continued even as the dust invaded her nostrils and inflamed her tissues and cells and caused her blood to boil and her veins to burst through her skin. Even the white suited soldiers who tried to pull her away could not immediately stop her digging. Pamela’s life flashed before her eyes and for the first time she wished that she and Johnny had children. In her fevered distress, she neither heard nor felt anything. She saw nothing but the light which exploded before her eyes. The wife was no more.
. . .
Shannon led the officers back to the Command Centre. Words were useless and so they remained silent. The officers had witnessed many deaths – though none came close to the horror of Pamela’s. They were all visibly shaken.
“What was she trying to do?” they asked themselves as some of them held hands and cried.
Black, White, and Blundus watched these events from outside the Command Centre. Saddened and horrified at the sight of Pamela’s death, they cried and tried to console one another. They cared not who might see them and what might be said. Though they hardly knew Pamela, in their journey together they had come to think of her more as a friend than the wife of a suspect. Now, they had lost a friend: a vibrant, intelligent, person who had so much to live for. She was gone. What was it all for?
Shannon wondered the same thing, though he did not cry. He did not know Pamela, yet he was touched by her death.
“Dammit, listen up!” he shouted as he entered the Command Centre which was now packed and noisy as it had been upon his arrival. “I don’t want another damn person to die here today. Death is hereby outlawed. Do I make myself clear?”
There was no answer. How can one answer such a question? Were it only possible for us humans to outlaw death. If only we could suspend it for a moment. But such power is denied us. Even Lazarus who was raised from the dead was raised only to die again. Death is real and it is final. We have no power over it. Hence the need for our religion which teaches us that death is but a gateway to another existence.
Shannon was unwilling to engage in any type of philosophical or theological inquiry. He wanted to stop death and now. As he glanced around the room at the many young men who were now under his command, he swore to himself that he would not lose a single one of them. Already, he had lost too many friends and acquaintances in so short a time.
Still somewhat shaken by Pamela’s death, Shannon walked in silence to the latrine where he washed his face several times before returning to the room. The noise had returned. He busied himself making final preparations for dealing with the cloud and reaching the bunker. Pamela’s death increased his determination to reach the bunker.
Shannon alternated between talking on the telephone and the three radios on his desk. He also had to sign orders and answer questions being shouted to him from across the room. Then, he got up and went to a private office to telephone The President.
. . .
The President was disappointed in the report. He listened without interrupting. When Shannon was done, The President merely told him thanks and to keep trying and hung up the telephone. The President then ordered everyone out of the Oval Office and played his tape of the sermon by Campbell. When the sermon ended, he called in his staff and started making plans to address the nation during prime time that evening. He had decided that delaying the speech until morning would not give him the audience and attention he wanted.
. . .
“Sir, the helicopters are in place and the tent is secured in place so we are all set to start Operation Clean Sweep,” reported an Airman.
“It’s about damn time,” retorted Shannon. He glanced at his watch. It was 1745 hours. He had one hour to complete his task and notify The President in time to change the speech he would give. The President informed him that he had prepared two speeches in case Shannon was able to get into the bunker before The President got to substantive matters. The President could merely switch speeches as the opening was the same for both. It took all of fifteen minutes for Shannon to get back into the specially designed suit, which made him look more like an astronaut than a soldier.
Shannon exited the Command Centre. He looked at the huge tent which covered the crater before hopping into a nearby jeep which took him to ground zero – the centre of the large circle of helicopters. Shannon had ordered them spaced out to where they could cover the entire area of the cloud.
“General, are we ready?” he asked the Major General as he arrived at the command point. The Major General was already in his special suit. The suits allowed both external and private communications.
“As ready as we can get under these circumstances, Sir.”
“Okay, let’s do it.”
Shannon entered the helicopter with the Major General. Once inside the helicopter, which had been fitted with a jet engine on a platform above its rotors, he was handed a headset which he placed over his helmet and spoke into.
“This is Main Thruster, all units report in.”
Each of the helicopter commanders reported their position. Shannon responded with, “Okay, Sweepers, start your engines!”
After two minutes he said into the microphone, “Okay, Sweepers, start your ascent. Easy as she goes. Maintain constant rise per schedule. Commence sweeper engine at exactly 1815.”
Shannon watched his watch as the helicopter eased its way into position. At 1815 he pointed his finger at the pilot who flipped a switch. The jet engine started up and the helicopter recoiled about fifty feet downwards and shook as if it would explode.
“What the hell?” shouted Shannon.
The pilot fumbled with the controls.
“Turn it off! Turn the damn thing off!” shouted Shannon to the pilot.
Shannon called for reports and all the helicopters reported similar experiences. “Listen up, this time I want you to wait until we are all at the cloud before starting up the sweepers. Let’s calibrate our watches. It is now 1818. We will all be in place by 1821. Start your sweepers at exactly 1822. Do not wait for my command. Repeat. Do not wait for my command. Start exactly at 1822!”
The pilot guided the helicopter towards the cloud. He was within 100 feet of it at 1822 when he flipped the switch. The helicopter recoiled and shook and fell 50 feet. He fought it back towards the cloud and this time continued to wrestle with the controls as the cloud began to lift.
“It’s working! It’s working!” shouted the Major General.
Shannon talked into the mike with the others and listened to the reports coming in. Everyone was reporting that the cloud was lifting. Within ten minutes of the sweeping action, there was a loud sound like thunder and then a humming like a freight train and the cloud in one big swash, shot straight upwards and disappeared.
The pilot flipped the switch turning the jet engine off. Shannon unfastened his seat belt and hugged the pilot, then the navigator and finally the Major General.
“Okay, Captain, get us home with all due speed!” exclaimed Shannon. The pilot complied.
Back on the ground, Shannon did not linger to join the others in celebrating their victory. Instead, he gave more poster boards to Rodney, who was ordered inside the Command Centre during the sweeping action, with messages informing the occupants of the bunker that they would be attempting to dig a tunnel to reach the bunker and for them not to panic. He then made sure that all of the missiles were guarded by a man with a lasso and a tool kit.
Everything was in place. The earth moving equipment had arrived and was busy at work. A steady stream of trucks with canvas tops came empty and left filled with dirt. All of the dirt removed from the site would be taken to a special facility where it would be “washed” clean of any contaminants then transported to Nevada where it would be buried in the Sierra Mountains.
Shannon sent three Airmen to exchange their suits with the officers from Chicago so they could join him. He needed them to help make positive identifications of the occupants in the bunker in case there was a fire fight. Shannon had no intention of merely handing whoever opened the door a radio. He was of the opinion that this matter had dragged on long enough and he was going to bring an end to it.
Finally, the moment arrived. Enough earth had been removed to locate the previous tunnel which led to the bunker. A squad of engineers descended into the tunnel and cleared a pathway to the door. Soon the door appeared unobstructed. Shannon and the three officers from Chicago and Rodney were then let down into the tunnel and they approached the door led by two Airmen with M16s and concussion grenades.
Per their plan, one of the Airmen knocked on the door. There was no answer. He looked at Shannon and Shannon nodded for him to knock again. Still, there was no answer. Shannon pointed to the knob which the Airman tried. The door fell open. They all rushed into the bunker to behold Diggs sitting on the floor with Fredda on the floor next to him with her head still in his lap. Upon further inspection, they found the assistant wrapped in his burial shroud.
The officers identified Diggs and the Assistant. They could not identify Fredda.
Pamela’s actions were now clear to Shannon who found the security codes on the counter and entered them in reverse into the console. He watched the monitors as the missiles retreated and the silos closed. Shannon left the bunker and hurried to his office to telephone The President. It was 1930 hours. The President would have already begun his speech. He hoped there was yet time to switch to the alternative one.
. . .
The President watched his Press Secretary count down the last seconds to the live broadcast of his presidential address to the nation. When it was time, the Press Secretary said in a solemn but firm voice, “Ladies and gentlemen, The President of the United States!”
The President looked straight ahead into the camera and said, “Good evening, my fellow Americans. Nine scores and twelve years ago, our forefathers brought forth upon this land a new nation conceived in liberty, and dedicated to the ideal that all men are created equal.
“At the time those noble words were spoken, over two million persons of African descent were being held in bondage and several hundred thousands of Native Americans were being slaughtered and interned on reservations. At this same time, women of every color were denied the right to vote, the right to hold public office, and were in a state of existence just a notch or two ahead of that of children.
“It is clear then, that when those lofty words were written, they were understood to mean all white men. The veracity of this conclusion is borne out by the words of John Jay who said that the American people, ‘descended from the same ancestors, speaking the same language, professing the same religion, attached to the same principles of government, very similar in their manners and customs.’ John Jay could have spoken those words only if he meant to limit the appellation of Americans to white men.
“Today, we are faced with a nation in which all of its institutions have been created and maintained for the exclusive enjoyment of white men and the exclusion of an ever increasing number of people of color and women. Today, vast numbers of our citizens are locked up, locked out, and deemed inadmissible to the vault of opportunity for which this country is revered the world over. White men around the world see America as the land of opportunity; whereas, our citizens of color see it as a land of inequality, despair and oppression.
“Those who spoke of the American ideal that the circumstances of one’s birth should in no wise limit or expand one’s horizon, must have confined such hope to white men. For being born woman or Negro meant one was born into a world of limitations from which one could never hope to escape. One was ever confined by a glass ceiling that permitted one to see opportunity but not achieve it.
“Even that grandest of all designs, the construction of the City of God meant a city for white men. Our leaders of the cloth preached a gospel of a universal God who acted particularly in and for white men. The members of the academy joined this promenade of whiteness and declared that God had ordained the colored man and the red man for servanthood since they were inferior to white men and in fact was little more than animals themselves.
“Scholars drafted theories of race and anthropology which supported the miserable lot to which we confined these people of colour. Yet, I cannot deny that always and at all times ‘their eyes were watching God.’ That even though, like the Apostle Peter, they at times plunged into the waters of chaos, their eyes were ever on God, trying as best they could to reach God’s kingdom. For that reason, we make no apology for what has been wrought upon this land.
“My dear Americans, as I address you this evening, I cannot help but be aware of the terrible cries which can be heard all over this land from people whose lives are no dream but a nightmare. As your President, I can no longer sit by and turn a death ear to those cries. Racism and sexism are our original sin. That we have resisted confessing this evil and repenting of it is the greatest threat to our democratic way of life. We must take a stand now and purge ourselves of this great sin or we will soon crumble into the dust of absurdity. For a lie cannot live long in the sunlight of day.
“I find it ironic that the same man who said that all men are created equal also wrote that the ‘tree of democracy must be watered from time to time with blood.’ History has proven those words too prophetic. I would have thought that the bloodshed during the War Between the States was enough to water our fragile tree for many generations to come.
“I was wrong. Our streets continue to run red with the blood of our children because we continue to measure people solely on the basis of the colour of their skin and their sex. This we can no longer do. The time has come to stop the bleeding.
“I do not mean to place a tourniquet on the affected member or to bandage it. What we must do is to remove the knife which has been thrust into the soul of Negroes and suture the wound and care for it until it is healed fully. That is why tonight -- --”
The President looked up from his speech to see his secretary waving at him. Once his eyes met hers, she flashed the victory sign to indicate that Shannon had secured the bunker. The President looked at the speech in his hand and the one that lay on his desk. He looked back at his secretary who maintained the victory sign. The President decided to continue with the speech at hand.
“-- -- that is why tonight, I am forced to
admit that perhaps we have aimed too high in trying to approximate the City of God. While ‘our eyes have been watching God,’ we have trampled on a great number of God’s people. It may be that all we can hope for at this moment in time is to achieve a Great Society, a society in which the circumstances of one’s birth do not dictate the contents of one’s life or the limits of one’s horizon. Our best hope for this place and time is to erect a Great Society in which all people have an equal access to the vault of opportunity.
“Toward that end, I have called a special session of Congress and will be submitting to Congress a series of Bills to commence the construction of a Great Society. In these pieces of legislation, I have declared a War on Poverty and an assault on Racism. As your President, I cannot change your hearts and minds – though I pray you will begin to seek that spiritual transformation that we all must undergo if we are to save this nation and what remains of the American dream.
“What I can do and what I have done in proposing the legislation I am sending to Congress is to tear down the barriers to opportunities that have been erected over time and to put the legal might of this country behind the guarantees which will emerge here tonight. “For despite the war to unify the States, it is clear to me tonight that we are moving swiftly to a divided nation – one white and prosperous, the other black and poor. Notwithstanding Lincoln’s Emancipation Proclamation, our Negro citizens are still enslaved in economic poverty and segregated from the bank of opportunity. History makes it abundantly clear that not only have we failed to remove the veil, we have erected walls around Negroes that segregate them from the vast opportunities that living in a free society offers.
“Too much blood has continued to be required at the altar of democracy. Far too many of our youth have had to be sacrificed that the sins of the father might be propitiated. ‘And I, for winking at such discord, have lost an embrace of kinsmen. All are punished! All are punished!’”
The President looked sternly into the camera here and pounded upon his desk. He reached over and picked up a glass of water and drank it then returned to his speech.
“Tonight, we begin the long march toward salvation. Tonight, we begin to repent of those sins. For a democracy to thrive, it needs the active participation of all of its citizens, even those who hold dissenting views. Dissent is the lifeblood of democracy!
“To redress the inequality in our political process, I am sending to Congress a Voting Rights Act that will open up the political process to all people. No longer will poll taxes and literacy tests be allowed to prohibit Negroes from voting. Nor will political parties be able to craft policies and procedures that keep Negroes locked out of the political process. All barriers to voting and participating in politics will be eradicated.
“To assist us in removing economic barriers to opportunity, I am sending to Congress a Civil Rights Bill that will outlaw all vestiges of discrimination in the workplace. This will include rights for Negroes as well as for women. Women who perform work equal to men will receive pay equal to men. In addition, equal access to public accommodations will be enforced.
“No longer will a Negro have to sleep in a vehicle or outdoors because the color of his skin bars him from sleeping in a hotel or motel. To help enforce these rights, I have established a Civil Rights Commission. I have also established a Commission on the Status of Women in American Society.
“We have seen many laws passed over the years only to see some members of our society create subtle and not so subtle means to subvert these laws. Therefore, I am taking Affirmative Action to address those efforts. I have established the Federal Office of Contract Compliance that will insure that every federal contract is administered by persons and businesses whose workforce reflects the diversity of American society. Every school, institution, agency, entity of whatever kind which receive federal funds will be required to show that it has taken and continues to take affirmative steps to include Negroes and women.
“The Civil Rights Commission will have broad powers to bring lawsuits to force compliance with these Great Society mandates. I am also establishing an Office of Civil Rights Enforcement at the Justice Department that will be able to bring civil and criminal actions of enforcement.
“I am also creating a partnership between private enterprise and the public sector which I am calling Job Corps. Job Corps will attract our nation’s youth to centres where they will be trained in marketable skills and given the opportunity to earn a high school equivalency diploma. These centres will be run by private corporations with both public and private funds. The best way to get our youth off the streets is to put them on jobs. This will we do with Job Corps!
“Another area that needs addressing is our government commodities program. Although a noble ideal at its inception, this program distributes less than quality food to poor people and is itself a form of segregation. When a poor woman goes into the kitchen to prepare a meal, she looks into her cabinets and sees cardboard boxes with black letterings and she is reminded of her impoverishment. No longer will that be the case. I am sending to Congress a bill that establishes a Food Stamp Program that will permit poor people to go to any store of their choice and to purchase the foods of their choice.
“My fellow Americans, many will question my motivation in creating these Great Society programs at this time. Many will think it politically motivated. Some will say it is but a political smokescreen since Congress will never pass such far reaching, society changing legislation. Toward that end and to address such cynicism, I have decided not to seek re-election to the Office of President. Let me make that perfectly clear. If nominated, I will not run! If elected, I will not serve!
“My remaining time in office will be spent getting this legislation through the Congress and in implementing these programs to ensure that we become the Great Society we are meant to be. When my term of office is over, I will retire to my ranch in Texas and live out my last days in silence until that good night claims me and I go the way of my fathers, knowing that I have done what I have been elected to do. I have done my part to make us a Great Society.
“Once I leave office, I will not accept any offices or accolades. I will give no speeches. I will write no books. All I do I do now forever. I thank you for your trust in me as your President. All of my adult life has been devoted to public service. I will always be grateful to you, the American people, for the trust you have vested in me time and time again over the years. Now, I ask you to trust me in this grand scheme to move our nation farther along the road of greatness. We can be, we must be, we will be a Great Society! Thank you and goodnight. May God bless you and may God bless and save America.”
. . .
It was a stroke of genius. The Press had a special edition field day as headlines across the nation flashed the advent of the Great Society. Shannon cleaned up the mess at NORAD and the surrounding area. He refused to accept the directorship of the CIA. Instead, he returned to the Middle East. Shannon would return several years later to become the first Director of FEMA.
The President succeeded in getting his Great Society programs through Congress, and true to his word, he did not seek re-election. He retired from office and went back to Texas where he spent his remaining years on his ranch and looking after the construction of his presidential library at The University.
As for his Great Society, well, the war in Vietnam continued to gobble up most of the nation’s resources and so there were only meagre funds available to fund this grand initiative. Perhaps more importantly, a society is only as great as its people. All the programs in the treasure trove of God are of no import if people do not avail themselves thereof.
Have we become a Great Society.
. . .
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Don E. Peavy, Sr., teaches religious studies at Victor Valley College as well as philosophy, ethics, and religion at the University of Phoenix, Southern California Division. He also teaches theology and divinity courses via the Internet for Canyon College.
Prior to moving to Southern California, Peavy practiced law in Fort Worth, Texas, his hometown, after graduating from the University of Texas at Austin. He left the practice of law to enter active ministry. He graduated from Brite Divinity School at Texas Christian University and pursued a PhD. at Claremont Graduate University in theology, ethics, and culture. Until recently, Peavy served as the pastor of McCarty Memorial Christian Church (Disciples of Christ) in Los Angeles, California.
Peavy now resides in Cagayan de Oro, Philippines where he is finally able to pursue his lifelong dream of becoming a writer. “Disaster” is Peavy's first novel. He has had published two nonfiction works: a book on Christian ethics entitled, “What Must I Do?”: Bridging the Gap Between Being and Doing, which was published by Kendall/Hunt in 2006 and “Play It Where It Lies”: How to Win at the Game of Life, published by Hamilton Books in 2007.
Tag der Veröffentlichung: 16.02.2010
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