Authors: Tom Avitabile
Tags: #Thriller, #Default Category
“Under my direction, the FBI will be turning up the heat on suspected cells and known affiliations of any …”
The director stopped speaking, distracted by a commotion outside the front door of the gym. The Secret Service agent on post grabbed his holster and stood in front of the president. Reynolds turned toward the muffled sound of the ruckus. The argument outside the gym got louder.
“What’s going on?” the Commander in Chief yelled.
The door opened and a Secret Service agent stuck his head in. “Sir, Mr. Hiccock is demanding to see you. Mrs. Lamson says he doesn’t have an appointment.”
“Let him in, Jim.”
“Mr. President, there’s no need for him to be in attendance,” the director protested.
The president didn’t acknowledge the director. Hiccock marched in, adjusting his suit, obviously having been physically restrained.
“Geez, Bill, you got my man here ready to take a bullet. Why all the fuss?”
“Mr. President, sir. I serve at your pleasure. If I have lost your confidence then there are plenty of swell teaching positions just waiting for me out there in the real world.”
The confused president looked to his chief of staff for clarity.
“Sir, your national science advisor doesn’t agree with the director’s analysis of the threat we face.”
“I wasn’t aware you had any experience in law enforcement, Bill.”
“No, Sir, I don’t. My degrees are in science and engineering, but you don’t have to know Dick, er … Tracy to see that we are using outmoded paradigms and Cold War fighting tactics to define an enemy that may literally have been born yesterday.”
“Wow, that’s a mouthful. Did you rehearse that all the way down here?”
Hiccock smiled. “Maybe just the gist of it.”
“Do you have any proof, Bill?”
“No, Sir. But neither does the FBI. They’re just rounding up the usual suspects.”
This comment pushed Tate into nuclear mode. “How dare you! This is FBI jurisdiction. We have more experience in this kind of crime than any agency in the world!”
“Listen, when it comes to this type of anarchy there is no track record. The first World Trade Center attack, the Olympic bombings, and September 11th taught us that.”
“What’s your point then, Mr. Hiccock?” the director said sharply.
“I see his point,” the president said. “Your agency and the traditional intelligence channels blew all those cases.” He turned to Hiccock. “Go on, Bill, this is almost refreshing.”
“Actually, Sir, I don’t know what to say next. I didn’t think I’d get this far. But I suppose I would not like to have alternate theories dismissed so quickly. It’s a new world, getting newer every day, Sir.”
“Nonsense,” the director said. “You’re just an intellectual chauvinist who thinks that science is the answer to everything.”
Hiccock bristled. “Then you explain to me how long ago an eleven-year-old Boy Scout, or ‘agent provocateur’ as you called him, would have to have been indoctrinated, trained, and stationed in proximity to the accounting firm that he eventually incinerated.”
“Perhaps his was an isolated incident, nothing more than a boy with matches.”
Hiccock’s Bronx attitude started to kick at its cage. “Come on, will ya? You’d have to be out of your friggin’ mind to think that a boy who bypassed security and disabled multiple floors of sprinkler and fire reporting systems didn’t have the smarts to hightail it out of there before becoming toast!”
After a moment’s silence, the president let out a long breath. “Okay, Bill, be careful what you wish for. As of now, you are in charge of your own investigation.”
“Excuse me? I didn’t ask, nor do I want …”
“Ray, come up with a way to fund him. Call it a … Scientific Ramifications Inquiry or whatever.”
“You could issue an executive order establishing the Office of Scientific Investigator,” the chief of staff said.
“Give him direct-line access to me, Ray.”
“What does that mean?” The slight indignation in the director’s voice was all too apparent.
“It means he reports directly to me and I expect you to offer him your bureau’s fullest cooperation.”
“Wow,” Hiccock said. “You can do that? I mean, of course you can. You are the president.”
“Ray, I can do that, right?”
“I’ll run it by counsel, but it sounds just like the Biotech thing you did last month.”
A light went on in the president’s brain as he remembered the Biotech initiative as being “cinchy,” a term a young female aid used to describe the constitutional and political realities of such a move. “Yeah, I can do that.”
A Marine guard was standing mute outside the gym, eyes front as Reynolds and the director of the FBI had it out.
“Thank you for your support in there, Ray.”
“First of all, I don’t work for you, I work for the president. And if he likes the idea of this geek running around the country under his authority, then I am duty-bound to love it.”
“You’ve managed to undermine my authority and the bureau’s reputation.”
“Get off that horse, right now. You had every opportunity to present your case and counter any of his arguments. You failed to convince the boss. Hiccock beat you, even when we stacked the deck against him.”
“Ray, I have been here through two administrations and I will not …”
“… Well then, you know how the game is played. I know James Mitchell and I know what he was thinking in there. He was thinking how his whole presidency is in your hands. And then Hiccock comes in and points out a flaw in your logic. And you had no good answer. You were blindsided. The boss is a man who likes to have options, Tate. Hiccock at least gives him an option.”
“But Ray, that little display by that uncouth character in there was mere grandstanding. I’m amazed he fell for it. Maybe you can point that out to him later?”
“I am not going down to the mat with the man just so your feelings won’t be hurt. Now go find the bad guys … before Hiccock does.”
ACCEPT, ACCEPT, ACCEPT, reject, reject, accept, accept, accept, 1-0-0-1-2 enter, accept, reject. Seven hours a day, forty-nine weeks a year. That was the rhythm of his work as well as the lot in life of U.S. Postal Service mail sorter Bernard Keyes. With sixteen years in, he was relegated the post of senior sort operator. His $38,000-a-year salary limited his life, like a small bowl stunts the growth of the fish in it. He was better than this and he knew it. As he heard his supervisor coming up behind him, he laid out his plan. He would grab the prodding tool used to un-jam the sorter and turn and smack him with it right across his fat, redneck face, and he would continue beating him until there was nothing but brains everywhere. He glanced down at the stick as the footsteps got closer.
“Bernie, what the fuck did you screw up now, you dipshit?”
He turned around with nothing more than a meek smile and a swallow. “It wasn’t me, Burt. Wanda up the line’s been screwing up the opcodes. Here, look.” His hand reached out toward the heavy prodding tool but passed it by, grabbing a mangled envelope instead. “She over inked the pads again! The shit’s smearing everywhere.” He pointed to the blob of ink where sharply defined lines should have been. Knowing even his lunkhead boss could see that these smeared bar codes would not be easily recognized by the laser reader, he felt he successfully defended his turf.
“Well then, get back to work, and try to be more productive.”
I’ll produce a bat right up your ass, you cocksuc
, he thought. But out loud he whined, “It ain’t me, it’s up the line.” He went back to sorting. As he stood there accepting, rejecting, and revising the zip codes on a million letters, he was thinking of how his boss would cower if he knew what Bernard Keyes did when he wasn’t on the sorters.
It started seven years ago in a chat room called “Going Postal,” where U.S. postal workers logged on mostly to gripe about everything. An irony not lost on Keyes was the fact that in the chat room, the soldiers of paper mail used e-mail—the realm of the enemy—to communicate.
It was in the “Going Postal” room that the calling first came to him. A web surfer spouted off about actually “going postal” by getting a gun and wiping out his substation. At first, Bernie thought it was just a guy acting big, but as the rest of the room discounted him as a nut, Bernie read something that resonated between the lines of his rants. The man spoke truths about the threats everyone faced— potential losses of freedoms, property, and lives. Bernie instant messaged him. The man responded to Bernie’s IM and they started chatting without anyone else knowing what they discussed.
Bernie found his battle cry that night. This was a cry so loud that the crazy interloper, who was all set to buy an Uzi and spray his workplace, became, instead, satiated by the beginnings of a plan that would, in the end, be much more satisfying.
YOU MAKE YOUR BED and you sleep in it, but you don’t always make your bed during the week, unless you are expecting company or your mother to drop by. Therefore, it was only sensible for Hiccock to have his usual once-a-week dinner with his ex-wife, Janice, at his home on Wednesdays, which just so happened to be the same day Mrs. Phelps, his combination cleaning woman, plant waterer, and surrogate mom, worked a full day sprucing up the Hiccock residence.
Having dinner with your ex-wife every week certainly made some people question either the dinner part or the “ex” part. Hiccock married Janice Tyler because she was the best person he ever knew. She was the best lover he ever had, and remained, to this day, his best friend. He wasn’t at all sure what he brought to the union.
He thought for a while it was a case of reading the wrong signals; two people, temporarily appearing to be going in the same direction at the same moment, only to realize they were on a course that would separate them.
Actually, he was the one who veered away. He allowed himself to become besieged with work. It was almost as if getting married checked off the relationship box on his “Things in Life to Do” list and made more room for work. And so they became the other half of the American Dream, the one nobody likes to acknowledge, the divorced couple. Nevertheless, Janice still possessed all those wonderful things he admired about her in the first place. Not having her to talk to was not an option. He
her feedback on his ideas. Watching her while she focused on the pasta before her and the almost mechanical precision of each fork twirl, perfectly sized to slip into her mouth without requiring her to open it too far, his mind returned to their time together at Stanford.
It had been the start of a new research project, ambitious in scope and grand in scale. 2,000 sets of twins were to be interviewed and studied. An adjunct professor of statistical analysis had recommended Bill to the head of the project, Janice Tyler. Bill had heard of Janice. She was almost famous. Apparently she was a brilliant undergrad student who distinguished herself in behavioral sciences and won an unprecedented full project grant from the National Science Foundation. She even had office space in the Human Sciences building. Bill found the room number on an open door leading into a space that even an optimist would call cramped, and knocked on the doorframe.
“Hello,” he said as he entered into the tiny empty office. As he took a step inside, Janice came from around the back of the door with a pile of books and almost crashed into him.
“Here, let me get those,” he offered.
“I got it,” she said.
“I said I have them.” They stood together for a second, then she squinched her nose. “What’s that I smell? Curry!”
“Uh, yeah I guess I had Indian food for lunch.”
“Yuck. I hate Indian food. You walk around smelling like
all day.” She waved away the “curry-fied” air from her nostrils as she walked off to put the books down on her desk.
“Maybe I should step outside and come in again?”
“Okay, do it.” Janice encouraged.
Bill stepped back outside into the linoleum-tiled hallway and rapped on the doorframe again.
“Who is it?”
“Miss Janice Tyler?”
“I’m delivering your order from the Bombay Palace, with extra curry.”
When she laughed, he knew it was going to be okay. She wasn’t the stick in the mud she first appeared to be.
“I’m William Hiccock, referred to you by Professor Parnes. He said you could use a Scientific Methodologist on your team.”
“Well, listen buckaroo, I am the quarterback, coach, and manager of this team. We are going to generate a lot of data. Do you think you can handle the workload and still play your little mindless reenactment of warfare every weekend?’
“You know who I am?” the quarterback said with just a little self-satisfaction.
“I know that you are supposed to be good. Do you think you can handle crucial data and keep your facts straight?”
“You said quarterback, coach and manager of this team. There is an aberration in the framework of the hierarchical order of succession you just employed to establish your archetypal position. Stemming from the fact that there are no managers in football, that titled position would be better suited to a baseball analogy.”
“So what do I want to be in that analogy?”
“I dunno… how about ‘bitch!’”
Janice was stunned. He could read all kinds of changes of mood and thought on her face. He wondered whether he had just blown it or blown it wide open. She took a deep breath as he waited for the explosion.
“Two rules, One. I am the high, exulted queen bitch of this team and you are nothing more than a subservient, scum sucking, drone worker bee. Two. You just used up the one and only time you can
call me a bitch again… until I give birth to a litter!”
“I can live with that,” William said as he turned and walked out.
“I think that went well,” Janice said as she sat down and started reading through the pile of books.
“Janice! Janice!” The call cut across the campus as Hillary Dennison ran with her book clasped to her bosom. Janice turned and waited for her to flurry across the green.
“Are you coming to the pep rally tonight?”
“It’s so retro, and I think I have some socks to de-lint tonight.”
“Come on, it’s the biggest game of the year Saturday, and the boys need our support.” She actually stood taller when she said that making her chest stick out like an obscene version of Shirley Temple saluting in a sailor suit. It made Janice laugh.
“Pitching? I’m not sure. Isn’t that baseball? All I know is Brad’s playing and that’s all I care about.”
“Oh, now I understand your sudden team spirit. Hillary, he’s a jock and you are on your way to being a brain surgeon. Don’t you see the irony in that?”
“Don’t you see his buns in those tight little pants when they’re running around the field?”
“Good point! Is that ‘wild’ guy going to be there?”
“You mean Wild Bill Hiccock. Yeah! He’s such a hunk a dory.”
“Hunk a what? When did you turn into ‘Gidget’ goes to college?’”
“When did you turn into my mom?”
“Okay what time?”
“It’s at 8, in the big gym. I’ll pass by at quarter to and we’ll walk over together.”
“Fine!” Janice replied reluctantly. As Hillary bounced off, Janice started to call after her. She managed to get her mouth open, but couldn’t utter the words, “On second thought.” Relaxing her stance, she attempted to persuade herself that she wasn’t going for any other reason than to show a modicum of school spirit.
Oh God, what will I wear?
At 8:45 Janice sneaked into the back of the gym. The pageantry and theatrics of the band, the drill squad, and the cheerleaders having long since finished their routines, the rally turned into an unofficial social event. She took in the ambiance of the crepe-paper-and-cardboard-decorated gymnasium, enhanced by scratchy music coming from a tinny P.A. system. Soft drinks were being served. Pretzels and potato chips crushed under her feet into the hardwood floor as she searched for Hillary and finally spotted her. The young Ms. Tyler checked her sweater and shifted her skirt one last time before making the walk across the “gauntlet,” diagonally across the gym where she would be seen and noticed by everyone. As she crossed the circle in the middle of the floor that they used for hockey or basketball, or whatever, she once again agonized over whether she had made the right choice in shoes. Should she have stayed with the longer dress being a sure fire match to her sling back pumps? She decided on shorter over matching but only after an hour of “in front of the mirror” indecision. She smiled as she approached Hillary standing there with dopey Brad.
“What happened to you? I waited till five of,” Hillary said
“I was caught up with something and I got here as soon as I could. Hello, Brad.”
“Hi ya” was the double syllabic response which she was sure was a big step for him over the grunts that must pass for communications between Hillary and he. Then she looked at him again and realized this shortstop, linebacker, or whatever he was, was quite a male specimen.
Maybe Hillary was on to som
, she thought.
In the awkward silence that followed, Janice realized that Brad had noticed her looking at him and turned to scan the crowd. Small clutches and groups had partitioned off talking about this and that. Janice didn’t recognize anyone she particularly wanted to converse with. Then she saw “him,” his protuberant head and shoulders appearing above the four or five obviously “star struck” girls, their mouths open wide as he pontificated on the process of throwing a perfect slider to the catcher-guy. She burnt that image into her retinas for one second longer before forcing her eyes off the spectacle, and continued scanning the room. Her eyes focused back on Hillary who was in the midst of having a heaping helping of Brad’s tongue.
God, how can she get her mouth open that wide?
Once again, she pried herself away from an image she was riveted to. She found herself looking at Bill again, with his little cheerleaders hanging on every word he spoke
. Wonder which one he’ll try to choke with
she thought as she fixed her gaze at the clock at the end of the gym.
What am I doing here? I’ve got to get out of here!
She pivoted towards Hillary and the Tongue Monster to say goodbye. It was evident at this point; they wouldn’t have stopped if she had set herself on fire.
Janice left vowing she would never, ever delude herself into going anywhere or doing anything that included Mr. William Hiccock again.
It wasn’t easy and she didn’t know what even possessed her to do it, but she sweet-talked the guy in the ticket booth something awful. The final negotiation to get a 50-yard line seat, right behind where the home team stood during the game, was complete when Janice agreed to relinquish her number. Another thing, out of character for Janice, was that she wore her politically correct school sweatshirt over her big sweater, cinched at the waist by her flared skirt making her appear more… ample. The stadium went crazy when Wild Bill Hiccock was announced over the loud speaker. As he trotted out of the tunnel and over to the sidelines in front of her, the roar of the crowd gave her goose bumps. The goose bumps led to a warm feeling that enveloped her body from head to toe, even on this very cold November day. She suddenly realized that out of the 80,000 people in the stands who were yelling their heads off, it was
who possessed a special, direct relationship with this man they adored.
He was, after all, her subservient worker bee. She was almost dizzy when she realized her mouth was open.
For the first two “innings,” she knew Bill had not seen her, even though she was only some 30 feet away. During the halftime break, as the marching band was finishing a tortured rendition of a song she used to like, Bill returned to the sideline. He glanced over her way and caught her eye. She was pleased when he smiled. She returned his smile and nodded back. Luckily, she started waving a split second after he turned toward the field. She pulled in her hand, reprimanding it for being silly and thankful that he hadn’t noticed. For the rest of the game, they exchanged glances, he to her after a play and she finding him when he came back to the side as Brad’s guys were sent out to stop the other team’s quarterback.
Janice figured it must have been an exciting game because the score was tied and the teams just stopped to rest with only two minutes left to play. People started shouting “Wild Bill.” The guy next to her, his face painted in school colors, said to his buddy, “It’s time for Wild Bill’s shoot out.”
“What do you mean by that?” she asked.
“Lady, if we’re lucky, we are going to see a master of the two-minute drill. This guy calls the plays with no huddles. He’s won four games in the last two minutes like that.”
“Sounds impressive,” was all she could think of to say.
At one point, Bill got the ball and the other team started coming aggressively toward him. The players were being thrown and pushed. Helmets were clacking as the skulls inside of them must surely have been cracked.
That would explain Brad’s cognitive skills challenge,
she thought. Then one of the biggest, meanest guys from the other team got a hold of Bill and spun him around; Bill almost danced around him and caused the big guy to fall right on his face. Bill then scampered around to the other side of the field and threw the ball from mid-air while he was jumping over a player who had been wrestled to the ground. Bill then turned to the stands where Janice stood. He looked right at her and smiled a big, goofy grin like a little boy who just caught a big fish. Janice was touched. He was showing off to
Suddenly, he became a blur as two “tackle men” slammed him to the ground. She winced as she heard the noise that the bodies made as they pummeled him into the dirt. A whistle was blown by one of the judges as he threw out his hankie again. Bill got up really slowly.
It amazed Janice that in this mindless contest of testosterone based violence, which pitted one color shirt against another, the man in black and white stripes was chiding them all for “
As if any of this really necessary at all.
Bill made his way to the sideline, as his team was now downfield without him, preparing to kick the ball through the goal post. Then another whistle was blown and both teams rested once again.
During the time out, Bill walked over to the edge of the stands where Janice was seated.
“Are you okay?” Janice asked, catching herself just before reaching over to brush dirt off his shoulder-padded uniform.
“Yeah, I’m okay.”
“What did you say to those guys?”
Bill just looked at her and laughed. She laughed, not really knowing why.