Authors: Tom Avitabile
Tags: #Thriller, #Default Category
She pitched her story angle to the editors, on the basis that never before had anyone in the American public even known there was a science advisor to the president. This guy was a an ex-football hero, and that meant that the science-minded Americans who read their magazine might be interested in who he was, what he would and what he could do to advance the cause of science in America today. Last night her premise was proven when the technocratic elite warmly embraced Hiccock.
She had already written 300 words on last night alone. She promised her editor 2500. With 700 more going to background, she only had 1500 or so more to write.
Might as well get this over with,
she thought as she steeled up for her introduction, attempting to smooth a night’s worth of wrinkles from the dress she wore at the dinner. She walked towards Hiccock. He looked like he had something on his mind. She turned on the smile.
As for Hiccock, he was running through a whole bunch of scenarios in his mind about any future encounters with the press. All at once he was looking into a vaguely familiar face, a really pretty face framed with blonde hair.
“William Hiccock, I’d like to introduce myself;, Carly Simone, from
.” She extended her hand.
“Pleasure to meet you.”
A real pleasure.
What brings you to the White House?”
“Well, your story.”
“I wasn’t aware that I had a story.”
“Wait until you read it in
“Oh I get it; you are going to do a story on me for
“Hopefully with your cooperation.”
I don’t think you’ll have any trouble getting anything out of me. “Sure, whatever I can do to help.”
Wow, that was easy.
“Thank you. Can we sit somewhere for a while and talk?”
“That sounds nice… er fine.”
“I think three times would do it.”
“Three interviews. I think that’s all it would take. The third would probably just be a follow up to clarify.”
“What are you writing, a novel?” I hope it ends with me getting the girl. Stop that, William, she’s serious.
She doesn’t know how to read the little smile that just rippled across his face.
Is he taking me seriously? Has it just hit him that I am in the same dress?
“I assure you, I only offer that as a measure of ensuring accuracy. Our readers demand it, as do my bosses.”
“I completely understand.” What a great dress… Oh crap! I can’t do this.
“Of course you’ll just have to clear everything through the Press Secretary.”
“Well, of course; how do you think I got this pass?” She said, holding up the pass dangling on a strap between her décolleté covered breasts.
“Well, that’s very impressive,”
My God you are healthy,
“but I think you should really review that with her one more time, especially after today.”
“What happened today?” Oh shit, I should have been here.
“You really are new around here. Cover that with her; she’s nice in a mean sort of way. Good to have met you. I’ve really gotta run.”
If I talk to you any longer we are going to be picking out china patterns and registering at Macys,
he thought as he walked off in a deliberately more self-important rush than was necessary.
Leaving Carly to say to his back, “And nice meeting you, too. I look forward to working together.”
, she thought as he turned and walked down the corridor. She was pleased having just had her first encounter with her subject.
On the way back to his office something about her was nagging at him. She looked familiar, although he couldn’t place from where. As soon as he reached his office, the pile of memos, press releases, and position papers nudged any further thoughts of… Was it Carly Simon? Wasn’t that the name of a singer?
Like I should talk
, thought Wild Bill Hiccock. He dove right into a position paper on “The Health Issues of Power Line Proximity in Niagara County.” Somewhere between “effective radiated power coefficients” and “the field effect of electromagnetism on cellular membranes”, it hit him. Aunt Mary! She was the blonde from last night. The one sitting up front!
Damn, why didn’t I remember her? I hope she wasn’t offended. “
...the fluxivity of the domain within the nucleus alternates between two
…” So she followed me here?
He read the next four dry, technically precise pages with a smile.
THERE WAS A SOFT, early fall breeze blowing into his face. That was good; he wanted to be downwind of his target. Dennis Mallory’s eyebrows knitted as he strained to listen for any crack of a twig or brush-by of a bush that would reveal the position of his prey. Not wishing to betray his location by the slightest move, he didn’t dare check his watch. Instead he judged by the position of the sun that he’d been waiting for at least two hours. The only movement he did risk was the rippling of his fingers over the main part of the weapon that hung comfortably in his lowered hands. An eagle circled above, catching a thermal with outstretched wings. The hot sun baked the valley and created huge heated updrafts upon which a bird of prey could hitchhike.
, he thought.
Only the bird doesn’t need contacts.
The quiet rustle of the forest was soothing. A few years back, at just about this time of day, he would be traipsing through some god-awful neighborhood. Suddenly, a movement caught his attention. As he had been trained to do with so many other weapons, his mind was immediately flushed of any and all thought save one: lining up his shot. The antlers and head of a magnificent eight-point buck peeked over the bramble about thirty yards ahead. Having long ago gotten over buck fever, he exhaled, eliminating even the remotest possibility that the holding of a breath could affect his body mechanics when he released the arrow. He silently coaxed the “venison on hoof” a little more out into the open, where he would be able to get a good shot. He slowly brought his arms up and lined up the “peep site” with green fiber-optic pin of his Titan site. The eagle above suddenly started flapping his wings in an almost silent flurry of whooshes. It didn’t faze the buck, which lazily strode out another two feet into the clearing. Dennis pulled back the remaining tension of the 70-pound draw, Bowtech Guardian Compound bow, making them one single, deadly weapon system and was waiting for the next foot of revealed buck to cross his sights when a cry came from above them.
Dennis and the buck looked up. There was the sound of breaking branches as the eight-point buck’s flag went up and the white underside of his tail disappeared into cover. Dennis watched, both amazed and perturbed, as a swatch of colors, lines, and ropes came crashing down into the opening. At the center of the ball of color and cloth was a helmeted man rolling in agony.
“Aw, fer christsake!” was all Dennis said as he replaced the arrow in his quiver. He then unstrapped his safety belt from the trunk of the tree and climbed down from the stand that required an hour of positioning. He approached the man on the ground and saw that he was rapidly losing blood from his upper leg. Dennis quickly opened his own belt, yanked it through the loops of his camouflage pants, and dropped to his knees. He used the shaft of an arrow as the turnbuckle of a makeshift belt-tourniquet. The man on the ground was going into shock and shuddering. The twisting of the tourniquet stemmed the flow of blood. Dennis determined that this daredevil had lost quite a bit of blood, but not as much as he had seen other men, including himself, lose and still survive.
“You’re going to be okay. You’re bleeding a lot and you might have a concussion. Don’t worry, I’ll get you out of here.” He removed his Gerber Skinner knife from its sheath and slit the man’s parachute.
Was it a para-sail or para-glide?
He couldn’t remember what the hot dogs who jumped off of cliffs called these things. Making a blanket of the multicolored fabric, he covered the crumpled body, deciding to leave the man’s helmet on but loosening the neck strap a bit. Dennis figured if he could at least keep him warm, the guy might not go into total shock. Dennis reached into his pocket to retrieve his cell phone. There was no signal. That’s when the man’s eyes met his.
“I’m going to a campsite about a mile back to get help.” As he walked away, the man grunted and tried to talk. Dennis came back and leaned down to listen.
“My … poc … ket.”
Dennis felt all the man’s pockets and found a cell phone in his right front. “I already tried but there is no sig …” Dennis was surprised to see a full signal until he read the name of the phone. It was a Comsat 310. “No shit, a satellite phone. Well, buddy, this is the best three grand you ever spent.”
Dennis was lucky to have drawn a tag from the Montana lottery and called the park rangers with the number printed on his out-of-state hunting license. He then reached in his pocket and retrieved his own personal Radio Shack GPS system. A gift from his wife, Cynthia, with a note that said “So you can always find your way back to me.” In the past, the only thing that got in the way of his coming home to her every night was the ritual at the watering hole, three blocks from the precinct that was his office for twenty-five years.
“My name is Dennis Mallory. I have a wounded man here, at 45 degrees, 37 minutes, 4.36 seconds, north, 110 degrees, 33 minutes,
35.82 seconds. Need air-evac, he’s lost a lot of blood.”
“Hold on.” The ranger didn’t put his phone down and Dennis could hear him calling to the chopper whose scratchy response was followed by a repeat of Dennis’s coordinates. The ranger got back on the line. “Is the victim conscious?”
“He’s going in and out.”
“Are you by a clearing or place for the helicopter to land?”
“We’re about 300 yards west of a nice clear patch. I’ll mark it with a part of this guy’s parachute.”
“Yeah, a little present from heaven dropped down here with a thud … cut up his leg on a broken branch as he was coming in, probably busted a couple of bones to boot.”
“That’s a first!”
“For me, too, buddy. For me, too!”
The chopper was four minutes out, and Dennis was packing up his gear when he heard a sound that freezes all hunters dead in their tracks. He turned and saw a giant chestnut-brown grizzly three yards from the downed man. Instinctively, Dennis started shouting, trying to distract the mammoth beast from the smell of blood. He knew that, at sixty yards, the .38 strapped to his ankle would do little more than piss off the thing.
The bear turned around as it got wind of yet another predator in his domain.
“Now what do I do?” Dennis said to the trees as he quickly unzipped the bag into which he had just stowed his bow. He cut himself on the razor-tipped edge of a Carbon Express, three-veined arrow as he snagged it out from the quiver. The bear started toward him. Then, as if the animal had calculated the distance between them, it turned to go back to the raw meat writhing on the ground only a few feet away. Like an Indian brave, with his bow out in front of him, Dennis began running toward the bear as he nocked the arrow to the string. To get the bear’s attention he started screaming again … to no avail. It hovered over the bleeding fellow for a second, sniffing at the brightly colored blanket.
While running, Dennis observed the bear’s hesitation, the nylon chute momentarily confusing the bear. The scent of fresh blood, however, overcame the grizzly’s visual disorientation and it began to prod and poke the bright fabric covering the newly butchered prey it was so fortunate to stumble upon. Then the grizzly got a handle on something that looked edible. With a snap of his head, the bear chomped down on the man’s arm.
Dennis stopped momentarily, just long enough to take a shot, then continued running. As soon as the arrow left his bow, he feared that he might hit the man he was trying to save. The bear swung the man out of harm’s way just as the arrow punctured the animal right above its left shoulder. The pain pulling the beast sideways created the image of the man being dragged like a rag doll.
This time, Dennis got down on one knee as he nocked the next arrow. Taking a deep breath, he retracted the bow and aimed. On exhale, he loosed the arrow. The animal cried out, dropping the man’s arm. Having been hit right in the chest it rolled backwards, snapping off both arrows that lodged deep in its body. The 1,200-pound grizzly roared as he beat the ground with massive paws and tried to shake away the pain that stung him like giant bees. Dennis approached the man and saw he was still breathing. Although his arm was gnawed, it was still intact.
Dennis fit the string into the notch of one more arrow. Cautiously, he advanced toward the wounded animal. It lay helpless, its breathing rapid and short, its thick fur rippling with spasms. Its eyes wide, the bear was choking on its own blood, the arrow having punctured the right lung. Dennis, a hunter all his life, of men, as well as animals, felt a genuine sadness for this great creature’s agonizing confusion.
“Sorry, pal, but this is for your own good,” he said as he let go of an arrow that went right into the beast’s heart. The giant bear stopped moving as if a switch was thrown off. Dennis gazed upon the grizzly for a moment. How sad that such a glorious animal had to be wasted like that. He had to put his daughter’s dog, Patches, to sleep when it contracted a tumor in its old age. She grew up with the dog and even though she was sixteen, he still had to explain to her that it was for Patches’ own good that he be put to sleep. His daughter didn’t buy it. It took a year before their relationship normalized again. Normal only for a brief second because then she was seventeen and discovered a completely new set of ways to test him.
Dennis heard the rotors of the approaching chopper and ran to the clearing to flag down the paramedics.
THERE WAS A TIME when people actually took tours of the Mason Chemical Plant Number Five. But that was long ago, before the National Football League decided that Canton, Ohio, was the perfect place for the Football Hall of Fame. Now
give all the tours. As with most industrial plants that are not working on anything of vital national or corporate security interest, the chemical plant had minimal security, mostly to keep out mischief-makers and give the employees the sense that they were being protected. This unseasonably warm fall evening, that protection was the responsibility of Eugene Harns, one of Canton’s finest, retired some fifteen years now from active duty, filling out his pension check on the night shift three days a week in the guard shack. It was an easy job. He wound up being more like the old guys at Kmart, a smiling, welcoming face waving folks through as long as the picture on their ID was a close-enough match.
It was only natural, then, that the appearance at his guard booth of a petite woman carrying a cake provided a good excuse for him to act official.
“Hold on, Ma’am,” he said as he stepped out of his shack. “No unauthorized access past this point.”
“Oh, hi. Listen, my husband Jim, he works the night shift. Anyway, it’s his birthday tonight, and I made him this little cake so he and Andy and the other boys could celebrate.” She finished with a smile that would have gotten the Army to open the door at Fort Knox.
“What’s your name?”
“Eugenia Nichols. What’s yours?” She extended the hand that wasn’t holding the cake on the plastic tray.
“Well, I’ll be … I’m
. Eugene Harns.” He allowed a smile at the seeming coincidence, not realizing that she read his name badge a split second earlier. “I’ll just call the night desk and see if they’ll come down to escort you.”
As Eugene picked up the telephone to call the night manager, she politely protested. “Gosh, don’t spoil it. It’s supposed to be a surprise!” Eugene looked the suburban mom up and down, her shyness causing her eyes to avert then reconnect during his scrutiny. If it hadn’t been dark, he might have noticed that her eyes kept moving rapidly when she wasn’t focused on him. Nevertheless, even in bright sunlight, Eugene would not have seen beyond her incandescent smile, her happy blue skirt, and her sensible shoes. His thirty-two years as a cop told him that she was as sweet as the cake. Her promising him a piece of the chocolate seven-layer on her way out also persuaded him to let her have her little surprise. He nodded his head as he allowed her through. She gave him a kiss on the cheek, which made him feel old, as if she thought of him as a grandfather or something.
Maybe I’m getting soft
, he thought as she sauntered toward the main building.
Upon entering the main room, the woman looked up to find dozens of brightly painted pipes of all sizes crisscrossing at different levels above her head. The tops of huge, three-story-high chemical vats jetted thin streams of vapor. She climbed up the aluminum stairs, her sensible shoes clanking all the way, onto a grated metal walkway. Walking directly to a valve-control panel box, she noticed a 6,000-gallon vat behind her, standing tall from the floor below. A red label read “Caution: Super Corrosive Content.” She placed the cake on top of the metal box and opened the panel. Inside was a large red valve held in check by a safety rod with a red flag on it, reading, “DO NOT REMOVE.” She pulled the rod out and turned the wheel. Immediately, the giant spigot at the bottom of the tank opened and a torrent of acid poured out—instantly vaporizing everything in its path.
A technician ran down the catwalk toward the woman. “Turn it back! Close the valve!” he screamed.
Without flinching, she pushed her hand into the cake and lifted it up, pieces of cake and icing falling off, revealing the .38 caliber snub-nose revolver she so painstakingly placed between the layers this afternoon. As she pulled the trigger, the loud report of the gun startled her, causing her to ask herself,
where did this gun come from?
Yet she was compelled to continue as the remaining cake in the front of the pistol blew off while she pumped three holes in the technician’s chest. He tumbled into the acid, dissolving like a pat of butter on a hot skillet. As the structure on which she was standing weakened and started to buckle from the same acid, she sat down in her very confused state, her jittery eyes bouncing in her head.
Wasn’t there a meeting at Jenny’s school tonight?
Where’s the cake I baked for it?
Seconds later Doris Polk, aka Eugenia Nichols, slid off into the same corrosive mix.
That was a different sound
, Eugene thought as he poured a fresh cup of coffee in anticipation of the slice of cake. He looked over to the little single-cup Mr. Coffee in the guard shack, as if that were the source of the rumbling thunder. Then he heard a noise he had never encountered in his life, something like a gigantic squeaky door accompanied by the low guttural rumble a Trident nuclear submarine would make if you dragged it across Interstate 80. He didn’t even notice the hot liquid burning his leg from the coffee cup that slipped through his hand. Mesmerized, he watched as the entire Plant Number Five collapsed in and on itself like a startled soufflé dissolving into oozing goo right before his eyes.