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Authors: Tom Avitabile

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BOOK: The Eighth Day
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The telephone started to ring.


Over
the objection of the FBI?” Janice said.

“It pays to have enemies in high places.” The telephone kept ringing. “And I am not going to answer that. I am actually under orders not to.”

“Then you’ll have time to do the dishes.”

CHAPTER ELEVEN
Meetings

Nobody steals clothes anymore, right
? Carly asked herself as she looked out the diner window at the harsh green tinted fluorescent spill from the laundromat across the street. As her
private
unmentionables tumbled in the
public
dryer, she sat sipping hot tea with lemon from her “sick tray” before her. No cross-dressing transvestite or out of work Victoria’s Secret model was going to steal her intimate garments and get away with it.
This is ridiculous!
She thought, yet she still couldn’t get herself to deposit them in the hotel laundry service bag.
Why can’t I e
v
er remember if it’s cold or hot water that gets blood out?

As if she were instantly cast into one of her worst nightmares, she recognized the face of a man she knew, entering the diner. In her particular version of the common nightmare, she would find herself naked in front of a laughing and snickering 6th grade assembly. In the dream she would nearly die of embarrassment, although she always awoke, in a cold sweat, before meeting the grim reaper, naked. Tonight, she was bloated, retaining water. Her hair unceremoniously lobbed on top of her head, she was in the old ripped sweatshirt with,
Oh God
, old spaghetti sauce stains on her chest. The warm-up pants she wore were a wonderland of lint balls and, on her face, the last remnants of a day’s make-up had, at this point, been reduced to an echo of eyeliner. Her lipstick had long since dissolved away from her normally accented lips.

Although he wasn’t laughing at her yet, her heart stopped when she realized he was someone from the White House, the press corps, somebody from cable.
Please don’t let him see me.
She buried her face in the cup and mentally tried to be smaller than her 5’10 frame. Although at that moment, she was in the middle of a little real life nightmare, later, upon reflection, she would come to appreciate the evening as the night that changed her life in ways she could never have dreamt possible.

“Hello there; Carly isn’t it?” the voice said.

Shit.
“Yes, Carly Simone,” she said. Then waited for him to fill in the blank look she wasn’t trying very hard to conceal. He was on the far side of fifty, and could have been Regis Philbin’s brother. There was a warmth in his eyes, but a perpetual sneer to his mouth. She wondered which one was dominant.

“Wallace Smith, MSNBC. May I join you?” He flashed a winning smile.

Carly was surprised. “Well, actually, I was just leaving.”


Actually
this will only take a few minutes.”

“What will?”

He smiled as he invited himself into the booth sitting across the table from her. “I have an idea. Do you watch MSNBC?”

“Sometimes, not lately. I haven’t had time to watch anything lately.”

“Are you permanent here now?”

“No, I am on assignment.”
Why didn’t I comb my goddamn hair?

“Do you like it here in Washington?”

“It’s got a personality all its own... more than any other place in America. The buildings and what they represent are old and stationary, but the people in them are always new and constantly changing. Even New York has natives. Here in D.C. if you find a native, there’s a good chance they are not involved in the only business
in
this town.”

“Well, I can see you are not opinionated.”

“I do objectivity for a living, I live subjectively.”

Wallace, who 25 years ago started out as a copy boy at the
New York Post
instead of going to college, recognized the journalism school jargon. “What school did you come out of?”

“Andover, then NYU Journalism for post grad.”

“Well, Carly, I’ll get right to the point. How would you like to work at MSNBC?”

“I wouldn’t know how to write for television.”

“No, Carly, I mean, go on camera, become a reporter.”

“Me? I have always done print. I am used to hundreds of words; you guys deal in hundredths of seconds.”

“Look, we have producers like me who handle all that. TV requires someone who can speak extemporaneously about an issue only when the earpiece falls out of their ears. You know Brian Williams, or Scott Pelley?”

“Yeah.”

“Sometimes I am reading the script right into their ear, two words ahead of what they are speaking. It’s called audio prompting. We of course only do it when things are happening so fast that there isn’t enough time to even teleprompt it to them.”

“So, are you saying you will put the words into my mouth?”

“Only if we are live and you couldn’t possibly know everything that’s going on.”

“But if I don’t know, why would I be talking about it?”

He held up his hands in a “no-contest” gesture, “Okay, so that’s a deal breaker right there, Carly. If you are going to spew forth journalistic ethics to me, then maybe you should stay in the virginal, unadulterated, pristine world of magazine writing. So you can be as God intended, one girl, talking to a few readers with nothing between you and them but a pencil and notebook.”

Carly let the “girl” remark go. But she grabbed onto the magazine slam. “So if I remember correctly, the top shows any network actually produces themselves with consistent top ratings are the ones they laughingly call ‘Magazine Shows.’ Tell me, is that just a way of buying credibility, ‘print’ credibility, the credibility won by those reporters who apply pencil to notebook?”

Wallace was amazed at the moxie this girl had. Maybe she didn’t know who he was. “You know as the head of the Washington news operations I would love to debate this all night, but you look like you got other things to do tonight and so do I. I’ll just leave it at this. I would like you to come work for us and cover the science beat. Since we deal in hundredths of a second in my business, I’ll give you a few hundred thousand to decide. Here’s my card. Or you can always find me around the press room.”

“Okay, I’ll think about it.”

As he stood looking down at her, he began negotiations. “You haven’t asked me how much we pay.”

“You haven’t asked me how much I want.”

Wally used his poker face and smiled, then turned away, thinking
She is some piece of work. She’ll pro
b
ably be great on camera
.

Carly tried not to watch him leave. She sat still for a minute or two reviewing the conversation. Hundredths, hundreds. Girl. Print. Ask me what I want. Credibility. Then it hit her,
this wasn’t a chance mee
t
ing
. He must have had her followed. He didn’t even order a coffee to go. Besides, he wouldn’t be in this neighborhood at night. So he came after me… That was a good point from which to start her negotiation for salary and benefits. As she sat there the echoes of another nocturnal fantasy started resounding within her. She always thought about being on TV. Reaching millions. Gaining the trust of millions. Making millions. She plopped down a ten, more than enough to cover the tab for tea and dry toast plus tip. She walked out of the diner and headed for the hotel. As she walked her head slowly rose from looking down at the cherry blossoms, which were falling like a gentle spring snow onto the sidewalks of Washington, D.C. Their unmistakable scent that filled the soft warm breeze, and the realization that what just happened was a good thing, lifted her head and spirit. The Washington Monument, brilliantly lit against the inky black sky, became an exclamation point to the evening that had started out with a period.

She was a block from the hotel when she stopped to retrace her steps, realizing she left her panties in the laundromat.

∞§∞

“Bill, are you sure you want to keep this small?” Reynolds said.

“Ray, if it gets too big, I’ll wind up filling out forms and running a bureaucracy instead of trying to figure out what the hell’s going on. Thank you, but no thank you. I don’t want to move into the Department of the Interior. I’ll work out of my office. I don’t want a staff of 300. I don’t want to do anything but get started.”

“It’s your show, Bill. Do you at least want a car and driver?”

“I’ll manage on my own, thanks.”

“Hey, that makes my job easier. Anything else?”

“No, I just need the one gov-ops person to handle the forms. Which reminds me, what’s the story with Cheryl?”

“She’s bright and she’s a self-starter, why?”

“How about her?”

“You want one of my assistants to be your gov-ops?”

“Especially one of your assistants, one who knows how things work around here. Besides, she can spy on you for me.”

Spying being a two-way street, Reynolds shook his head. “Okay, Cheryl will be assigned to your group.”

The intercom beeped and Reynolds picked up the receiver. “Ah, yes. Send him right in.” He hung up the phone. “When I called Tate to do the vetting on Janice, he hit the ceiling and said he’d be right over.”

On cue, FBI Director Tate entered. “This is preposterous.”

Hiccock concealed his slight delight at Tate’s rage and remained focused on the chief of staff.

“Just run the usual background check on her, please,” Reynolds said calmly.

“Sure, why not? I am sure the president wholeheartedly supports Hiccock’s efforts to rekindle his marriage.”

“Forget the fact that she’s my ex-wife,” Hiccock said brusquely. “She’s the best on anyone’s list.”

Tate rolled his eyes. Reynolds looked Hiccock deeply in his. “Bill, I think the question is whether both of
you
can forget the fact that you are exes?”

“Are you kidding? We’re like the best of friends. We still have dinner once a week. There isn’t anything we wouldn’t do for each other …”

∞§∞

“Fuck you! No way!” Janice said resolutely. “I’ve got a practice, a funded study, and a neurotic, type-A personality male with a great talent for finding superior wines with whom I am trying to wash you out of my hair. No!”

“The lawyer?” Hiccock asked incredulously.

“He’s an arbitrator.”

“He’s arbitrary, all right. I thought that was over.”

“It was under review.”

“See, it’s not even a relationship, it’s a - a - a thing! Under review.”

“If you remember, we agreed not to talk about our other relationships.”

“What do you mean,
we
?”

“Listen, Bill, we would still be a we if you didn’t throw yourself so totally into that artificial intelligence thing and now this White House job. Christ, even the president gets time off!”

“Would you have liked it better if I sold out and took that Defense Department job with Robert Parnes right out of college, in a think tank, trying to figure out how to get more fucking mega-death from atomic weapons?”

“Or signed with the Giants! First off, what’s so goddamn wrong with money? And yes, a little more bringing home the bacon and a little less worrying about the pig would have been nice!”

“Wait, I’m lost again,” he said in exasperation, fingers splayed out on his forehead.

He could see she was trying to conceal a little smile. “Forget it, that analogy didn’t test well to the operational model so it must be deemed false. Here’s a better postulate, buckaroo! You got a degree in engineering, your first Master’s was in physics, your second Master’s in scientific methods. You are not a Bachelor of Science, you are a goddamn husband of science and you cannot have two wives.”

“Give me a fucking break. You’re jealous of my work?”

“Angry! I’m angry at it because it took you away from me. So I am out there,” her arm shot out pointing toward the window, “and if you haven’t gotten the message yet and you haven’t been dating anyone, don’t shit on my good luck!”

“Good luck! He’s old enough to be your father’s … younger brother.” He squeezed his eyes as soon as he said it, knowing he crossed a line—a receding hairline—with that remark.

“End it here and now.” Her face was daring him. “Not one step further,” she said, wagging her finger.

Hiccock felt he landed some good shots and received the TKO, so his mind reverted to his original reason for all this. “You’re right. I am not handling this well. I’ll try to do better. But Janice, this investigation is the most important thing in America. I need you. The president needs you. Your country needs you.”

“Two strikes out of three, Bill. I didn’t vote for him and I divorced you.”

“I know that face. You
are
going to help me, aren’t you?”

“You got me on the country thing.”

CHAPTER TWELVE
Terror Firma

Carly adjusted herself in the chair as Wally finished a phone call in the little office afforded MSNBC in the cramped quarters of the surprisingly small White House. Its initial design never considered the exponential growth of journalism outlets that would clamor for representation in the longest running story in American history, the office of the chief executive. Carly had played out the way she imagined this meeting was going to go at least 20 times in her head.

Wally was probably going to play the card that print journalists make crap for salary, whereas broadcast is the money train. Dangling the carrot of future big paydays once she established herself, he would then try to get her for the cheapest possible price. She was ready for his argument and felt she was prepared to walk if she didn’t get what she wanted.

Wally hung up the phone and mentally switched gears; a smile suddenly appeared on his face indicating he was ready to iron out the details with her. She let the silence grow, not wanting to start the negotiation.

Then Wally broke the ice, “So I assume we aren’t doing this over the phone because you have decided to join us.”

“Let’s just say I am interested,” Carly replied as neutrally as she could.

“Okay, let’s cut to the chase; your salary will be $120, 000 a year. You will have total editorial control over any piece you initiate. If you are assigned to a story, however, then the producer and the editor of that story have final say.”

The $38,000 a year print reporter was stunned. All her objections evaporated right before her eyes. Having to say something, all she could muster was, “Can I stay with
SciAm
?”

“I’d insist. It gives you more credibility for your beat.”

That’s $158,000 a year.
“What’s my beat?”

“Science. I got a feeling this Hiccock guy is on a fast track with all this terrorist stuff and I can’t make the guy out. You seem to have a way with him.”

Carly was mildly amazed at this comment.
Do I have a way with him?
“So let me get this straight. I get paid and have control if I deliver Hiccock to MSNBC.”

“For now, yes. That’s the deal. You scoop every other cable network in town and you get to renegotiate for millions in a year or two. This is a good deal, Carly.”

Was he willing to go higher? It was worth a shot.
“Is that all you are prepared to offer me?”

Wally smiled, paused for effect, and then said in a low voice. “Carly, let’s make believe I offered you the standard 60,000 starting salary and you countered with 180 and we spent weeks to get to 120,000. Now let’s make believe you feel good about beating me for 60 Gs and can get to work.”

“Fair enough. When can I see the contract?” Carly inquired.

“Give me your lawyer’s name and we’ll stay out the nitty-gritty; from this point forward we have to work together. Let our business affairs department and your lawyer hash it out.”

Carly smiled.
I don’t have a fucking lawyer.

Wally smiled as they shook hands.

∞§∞

The long abandoned Bufford farm was off the interstate and down a road that only deer and, before he died, Bufford would normally ever travel on. But tonight was an exception. Seven trucks and three cars went down this deserted road, noticed only by a doe and her fawn. Inside the barn, the dank smell of straw, sawdust, and animal droppings attacked the olfactory senses. The rotting timbers, with their deeply etched, distorted grain gave the wood plank walls and cross members the gnarled look of the twisted souls from Dante’s
Inferno
. Bernard and the others listened to a report by RedBarron348. Everyone in the group used their chat room handles, never any real names. Bernard set this up as a security precaution; if captured, no one could divulge the identity of the others. His nom-de-web was Sabot. He thought it was a little obvious, but it would be looked upon as a bold and brash snub to the authorities when the time came to write his memoirs or, better yet, have them written by an adoring, thankful public.

World movements usually happened in synchronicity, as if the collective consciousness of mankind arrived at a single notion at the same time. America had already sustained and repelled attacks by fundamentalist zealots who made their statements on religious or political grounds. But now, for the first time, the high-tech mongers and “industrial rapists of humanity” were being attacked. Bernard acknowledged it as a signal that the great struggle was nearing. If they didn’t stop the advancement of technology taking over human life now, it would soon be too late.

In its seven-year history, the Supreme Council of the Sabot Society normally met twice a year. Tonight’s meeting, however, was special. Called last week, the cell leaders from across America converged on the farm to ascertain their position in the new movement that had exploded across America. Bernard opened the meeting to a room full of grinning faces. He reviewed the agenda he held in his hand. First, he would ask if anyone was responsible for any of the seemingly anti-technology “statements” that literally blasted their way onto the front pages. Then he would poll the group to see where they stood on showing further support and solidarity with the cause. He would follow with a suggested list of targets to “supplement” the already-initiated campaign, after which he would conclude with a report from the treasurer.

Looking up from his pad, he thought he knew the reason for the smiles around the room. The attacks escalated their struggle to national prominence. In a way, that legitimized this group’s existence. It also assured the communication of its message to the other warriors out there—those who realized the true depth of this impending crisis and could take demonstrable action and rally the fight. As soon as he had everyone’s eye, he began.

“I’d like to call to order this meeting of the Sabot Society. It is an exciting time …”

“Sabot, excuse me,” DuneMist interrupted.

“Yes,” Bernard responded, caught off guard.

“We have all decided to commend you on your recent initiative.” The room erupted into applause. Sabot was stunned, but his confusion was not apparent to the attendees. DuneMist continued, “Last meeting, when you singled out Intellichip and Mason Chemical as the advanced guard of the forces of enslavement, we thought you were asking us for recommendations on how to address them. Now we see that you have struck mightily and struck deep into their very hearts. We know our bylaws forbid each cell from knowing the activities or identity of the others, but all of us who were not involved in the operations applaud those of us who were. And Sabot, to you, a special note of appreciation for advancing the cause.” Once more, the room convulsed with applause.

Bernard just stood there, his mind racing. They were thanking
him
. They figured out that he masterminded the acts of insurgency being perpetrated on American high-tech companies. They were cheering him on. That never happened to Bernard in his whole life. Nobody ever gave him credit for anything. They were giving him their vote of confidence, and there was only one thing to do.

Bernard raised his hands and the ovation stuttered to a halt. He took his time, looked at them with a serious stare, and made a show of having just made a decision. “I will allow this one breach of security, and simply say thank you to those of you—you know who you are—for your contribution, and ask for a moment of silence for those who gave the supreme sacrifice in the Ultimate Battle.” Everyone in the room was moved by his words. Bernard’s head swam as he decided he liked the adulation.

“I have prepared a list of other targets. I will discuss these with each and every one of you independently. Some of your tasks may not be as grand or as risky as those that have been achieved thus far, but I want each of you to know that no matter the size or status, every mission will be just as vital to our goal.”

∞§∞

Through the extremely small, highly placed window, one could see the guards patrol the catwalks around the compound. Hiccock figured the window’s diminutive size and location—about six feet from the floor—were to deter the prisoners from using it to escape from Leavenworth Penitentiary. A heavy metal sound clanked, a buzzer sounded, and a female federal corrections officer escorted the bound and shackled seventy-seven-year-old Martha Krummel, aka “The Gardening Grandma Terrorist,” to a desk in the visiting room. Hiccock and Janice took their seats across from her.

“Are those necessary?” Hiccock asked the guard, pointing to the chains.

“She’s on suicide watch,” the guard said plainly.

“Hello, Martha,” Hiccock said to the gentle-looking woman. “I’m William Hiccock and this is Janice Tyler.”

“Are you lawyers?”

“No, Martha, we are investigators for the president.”

“Don’t like him. Didn’t vote for him.”

“Well, there’s one thing we agree upon already, Martha,” Janice said. “Do you fully comprehend the seriousness of your situation?”

“Like I told that lawyer fellow, I know I did it. I don’t know
why
I did it, but I know I did. It was like I was dreaming or sleepwalking it. I did things and knew things I didn’t even know I knew.”

“Like what?” Hiccock asked.

“How to cross-connect wires in a signal block vault, thus reversing the polarity and the direction of a main line interlock cutout relay switch.” She stopped, frozen, and shook her head. “You see! I don’t even know what I just said but I knew how to do it.”

“Do you listen to rap music?”

That remark earned Hiccock a swift kick under the table from Janice as she asked, “What were you going to do after you derailed the train? Did you have an escape plan?”

Martha started to tremble and cry. “I knew I had to kill myself. I don’t want to die. But I know I have to kill myself. I got knocked out by a piece of something or other from the wreck or I would have.”

The short hairs on Hiccock’s neck prickled up while Janice turned white and shivered as if it were twenty degrees cooler in the eight-by-eight cubicle.

“She tried to off herself the moment she woke up in the hospital. Twice more since she’s been here,” the guard said, nodding to the shackles around her thin wrists.

“I don’t want to die,” Martha said, looking down at eternity through the tabletop.

Hiccock’s eyes sank, too, and then rolled over to Janice. He expected her to be as moved by this as he was, but she sat intensely focused, observing Martha.

∞§∞

The flowers were well-tended and thriving, Hiccock thought, as he and Janice strolled the colorful little garden area off the prison exercise yard. It was a peaceful respite after the chilling interrogation of Martha. Hiccock realized the “free” labor here at Leavenworth must be the reason for the meticulously maintained patch. For a second he imagined that Martha’s gardening talents could be put to good use here. Then he remembered that she would kill herself as soon as someone put a shovel or rake in her hand.
Maybe when this was all over, Janice could help her.
They stopped at a bench looking over some kind of flowers. Maybe they’re irises, he thought.

“So, doc?” he asked.

“She is a case study in and of herself.”

“Glad I got you mixed up in it now, aren’t you?”

“Don’t push it. I think Martha might be exhibiting bi-stable concurrent schizophrenia. It’s rare.”

“Because if I remember correctly schizos don’t remember the other personality,” he said, dragging up Psych 101 from some obscure part of his brain.

“Yet she is fully cognizant of both her realities. Amend that. She is aware of her violent side. I want to call in Professor Wallace Jenkins from Harvard.”

“Can’t. He’s not on the list of cleared consultants.”

“What is this, a friggin’ HMO? Bill, he’s the guy!”

“No, you’re the guy! They want this contained.”

“What if …?”

“Listen, you can do this. I know you can.”

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