The Examiner Blogger
And the Wind Will Carry Us Away
Post Date: June 16th 2019
This is my last blog. I’ve brought you breaking news and government scandals for years so you know I speak the truth.
The world as we know it will be gone in a matter of days. Last night a Red-Label Level-5 Contingency Plan was set in effect for the island of Manhattan. That’s the highest level alert there is, and it forced the authorities to quarantine over 10 million people. Homeland Security blew bridges, flooded subway tunnels, sunk yachts, and filled the Hudson with destroyers and heavily armed Coast Guard skippers.
This was supposed to stop a deadly virus from escaping the island, but it has failed. Yes, the news rags are saying the containment has worked, but they spew lies.
This morning I left my Long Beach home to get close to the containment line and was shocked to see the Lower Bay vacant of destroyers and skippers. There are no soldiers manning any sort of containment line. They’ve cleared out completely.
And now I am sick with the virus. It’s in every nerve, and my body is breaking down into a sickening mush. Someone needs to stop this viral spread, somehow, but a certain hopelessness crawls along my spine. I fear for the future of humanity and for myself. Darkness lingers in the corners of my vision. . .
The Day of the Dragon
Ian ducks into the fancy bathroom at Aldea in the Flatiron building, wondering if his faded jeans and secondhand, button-up shirt turned any heads. The bathroom is bathed in gold light and enshrined in marble and there are three stalls, two urinals and no attendant. His shoes squeak as he rushes into a stall and closes the door. The toilet, though clean, looks like every other toilet. It reminds Ian that people piss and shit the same and that no bloated bank account or trust fund would ever change that. The rich and the poor are only separated by corruption, bad ideas, and stupidity. He sits.
Ian is a militant activist. He’s tired of posting blogs, adding comments and pulling stupid pranks that only piss people off. He’s going to act big, forcing the sheep and the shepherds to listen and take note. Progressive ideas should reign because he cares about people, about fairness.
Ian is anxious as he waits, letting his mind flitter about. He smells some kind of fragrance, and his nose wrinkles. It’s a woodsy, ambiguous smell that’s mixed with a sharp Irish Spring kick back. It belongs under the turtleneck of some prep, not in a bathroom.
The bathroom door opens. Someone walks past and enters the next stall. Ian peeks at their shoes: rich brown, dark stitches, and glossy as a mirror. They’re probably made of lambskin or some other miserable animal byproduct.
“Ian Gladstone?” A computer-altered voice comes from the speaker on a cell phone.
Ian clears his throat. “Yeah, that’s me.”
The man sets an overstuffed, black duffle bag on the marble floor. Gloved hands slide it over.
Ian digs through the contents, feeling like a drug dealer inspecting stacks of bills. “Zilla?”
“Pardon my paranoia but you can’t know who I really am. I must maintain my position of power in order to affect change.”
“I get it.” In the duffle bag are coveralls, a tool belt, clipboard, and a square toolbox. “Everything we talked about is in here? ID, too?”
“You’re all set.” Zilla’s voice sounds like Darth Vader speaking through a tin can. “Did I ever tell you I knew your mother?”
“No. We usually keep to politics.” Ian wants to see his face, see the man behind the curtain. He wants to know how much power Zilla really has, how famous or infamous he is. It’s a bit like seeing cake through glass and having no money to buy it.
Ian tells himself that it’s okay not to know who Zilla is. What really matters is what he says and does. Actions define men, not flesh and bone.
“She was smart. A good leader. You have done well following her lead,” Zilla comments.
“Let’s get this done before someone comes in, I’m ready.”
“The consequences will be yours if you mess this up. Wait five minutes before you leave.” With those final words, the man stands, opens the stall, and walks out of the bathroom.
Ian slips into the navy coveralls. They fight back because he refuses to remove his shoes and they’re one size too small. After wriggling around, it seems to fit.
As Ian leaves the stall he stops at the mirror. His nerves are strung tightly, sending a humming sound throughout his body. It’s a good hum, like the resonant decay at the end of a good song. A stitched logo embellishes the left chest, and a clipped-on ID badge declares his name: Alex, Air Conditioning Specialists of New York.
Ian wets his hands and runs water through his jet-black hair. He’s a soldier now; powerful, untouchable. Rebelliousness always felt good.
He tosses his t-shirt and jeans into the garbage and walks out of the bathroom. His vision is acute, his heart pounds rhythmically as adrenaline snakes through his body at record speeds.
A fancy bar near the door is packed even though it’s early afternoon. The suits and preps that surround overstuffed leather chairs probably don’t have jobs anyway. They’re watching a game on an eighty-inch TV that commands the crowd’s attention. His watch says he’s got some time so he sits at the bar. The phone in his breast pocket will buzz when he’s clear to go.
A cute bartender nods at him. Her bright red hair is braided and held together by a metal clip with sharp talon-like protrusions. Her eyeliner is thick and her lipstick dark red. Ian can’t stop looking at her. She becomes a bonfire on a beach at night, with flames so bright they transform the surrounding crowd into meaningless shadows.
“Need something, or you still on the clock?” Her voice is forceful but oddly soothing.
“IPA, thanks. Anything local.”
She pours a pint from the tap and sets it on an embossed napkin. “This is my favorite brew, Boulevard IPA. Let me know if you like it.”
Ian gulps without tasting and smiles at her. “It’s good.” Someone scores and the crowd bursts into cheers. After the chorus calms, she leans in and says, “It’s got orange, grapefruit, and a hint of lime. My favorite.”
Ian adjusts his coveralls again then looks at his watch.
“Little nervous? Are you starting a new job, Alex?” Ian must look uncomfortable, a bad sign. “Need to take the edge off?” She winks.
Ian forces a nervous chuckle and lightly touches his ID badge. “Ah, no. I’m off the clock.” His brain races as it tries to find a reason for his obvious jitters and sweat stains. “I’ve got money on the game.” That should work. “I need to change. This suit doesn’t quite fit. Temp job. My day job is event organizer for Red Stars.” Ian snaps his mouth shut and looks away. Damn it, I’m Alex, not Ian the political activist. Instead of being in spy mode, I’m blabbing to some girl at a bar! Maybe I should just walk away and go home.
“Oh my god! I subscribe to them. Read their RSS every day!” Her eyes grow big and bright, and her cheeks flush.
A familiar voice speaks in Ian’s head. It’s his mothers. “Girls and family are distractions. You’re a political architect. Your noble action is selflessness and your sacrifice will be remembered for all of history.”
Ian’s mother made the ultimate sacrifice. She neglected his father, her sister, and all his extended family. She was his teacher, his ruler. Ian wishes she could watch him change the world for the better.
Growing up, his mother made him take dictation during her rants, made him study her speeches and dig through press releases if they mentioned her in a positive light. She never let him look at criticisms, but he heard about them anyway, especially in school. Elementary and middle school passed in the blink of an eye. Ian was always busy, and so was she.
Finally, her work seemed to pay off. During his sophomore year his mother was elected Senator of New York and poised to run for the White House. Then the skeletons in her closet rattled, and someone heard their seductive whispers.
The day she died she called for Ian, her voice panicky. Ian was binging on a TV show, and knew she was about to lay some work in his lap. She stood in her bedroom doorway, wearing red, silk pajamas. It was too early for bed, and she always worked late anyway. He noticed how thin she looked, how her top sat on her bony shoulders like she’d forgotten to take out the hanger.
“What?” Ian asked.
She motioned him through the door and closed it. “Drink this.” She handed me a coke. “Quickly, it’s got some vitamins in there.”
Ian’s eyebrows rose. She wasn’t a soda drinker and never kept it in the house, but he gladly took the drink. “You called me up here to give me a soda? You’re being weird.” He gulped. The bubbly nectar tingled as it rolled into his stomach.
She went to the bed and sat. “You are going to hear things about me tomorrow or the next day. The news will break that I transferred classified satellite defense documents to the Chinese government. They are lies.” Her eyes kept looking away as if she were lying.
“What are you talking about?”
She shook her head. “The media. They’re spreading lies. The government has manufactured terrible things and fed it to the media. And the media is buying it.”
Ian wasn’t a baby anymore, so he knew the game or thought he did. “If they’re lies, you fight them in court. We’ll prove your innocence. You’re being targeted because you’re outwardly socialist.”
She motioned for him to drink the soda, and Ian obliged automatically. Her eyes fluttered. She was pale, skin and bones. “I will lose. The powers are too strong. I have to pass the torch to you now.”
“Wait a second.” Ian sat the empty glass on the nightstand among dozens of photos of him and her, all ages.
She turned Ian’s face so that he could look into her eyes. “Take the torch and run with it. We’re close to changing things, so close. Don’t distract yourself with anything. Not girls, drugs, or greed. The system has cracks so use them to smash the walls to bits.” Her eyes rolled and she swayed. “The powerful need a check. They are the thieves. Someone must take from them.”
“Are you drunk?”
She fell back suddenly, folding into the down comforter like a stone.
“What’s wrong with you?” Ian touched her arm, then her forehead. It was as hot as a skillet. “I love you. I’ll be watching. Go make me proud and don’t feel sorry for me. This is okay. I will never go to jail. Not ever.”
“What is going on? I’m going to call the ambulance! You look terrible.” Her grip tightened on his arm. His heart pounded and seemed to swell. Dizziness rolled through his brain as his veins flooded with what felt like molten lava. The room darkened like shadows were closing in. She pulled him down and hugged him hard. Ian started crying and pulled away. “I need to get help,” he slurred.
“I remember you as a baby, as a boy, a teenager. I remember your first bike, your broken arm, when you were at my swear-in ceremony. . .”
Ian climbed off her bed feeling like someone had strapped bricks to his chest. “Phone, Mother! You’re freaking me out!” He tried to move for the door but couldn’t seem to pick his foot off the carpet.
Her voice softened to a whisper. Ian fell to his knees and struggled toward the door. “Mother! What ju-do to me?” he said, slurring.
“I love you. Take my torch. I love you. Take my torch.” Over and over she said this. Ian turned back to her then lost all sensation. The last thing he remembered was crumpling to the plush carpet.
She died in her bed that day, making sure Ian was out long enough so he couldn’t save her.
After a lot of tears which his father did not share, he took up her torch. Though the press had thrown her under the bus for weeks, it became surprisingly gentle after her suicide. She’d left a twenty-page document expounding her innocence. Her loyal community believed every word.
Ian did, too, but some doubts remained tucked in the folds of his brain like lint in a pocket. No matter the truth, he began his career of mischief and malcontent in her shadow. His life tumbled through chaotic, back-room political rallies, self-avowed communist organizations, and unsavory, less than legitimate activist groups. He longed for a better world and wanted to destroy this one in order to build it.
Shortly after graduating college, he met Zilla.
The girl at the bar has been talking for the last ten minutes, but Ian hasn’t heard a word. His nods and smiles are enough to keep her chatting, even while she serves beers and makes drinks for impatient patrons. His phone buzzes, startling him “I’m sorry,” Ian says, cutting her off. “I’d love to continue our chat, but I’ve got to go.”
Unfazed, she puts down a fresh napkin and writes her name and number. “Call me?”
Ian smiles and touches her finger as she hands him the number. “Yeah.” He hefts the duffle bag over his shoulder and walks out of the bar, pausing in the Flatiron building’s shadow.
Ian takes one look at her number and sighs. She was so cute. Though it was hard to do, he wads it up, and tosses it in the garbage. He’s got history to make now. No distractions. His real work has just begun.
Ian heads to the subway and takes a train to the Brooklyn Bridge. It’s a popular tourist stop so it’s packed. He heads up Pearl Street, passing the slower people and the weekend photographers. His first job is 1 Police Plaza, the office of the police commissioner.
Ian passes a van parked in a special permitted spot on the curb. It has the same logo that he now wears on his chest. A woman in a tight, dark blue skirt and a white collared top walks up. She’s got bright red lipstick and rich brown hair. Her green eyes target and hold him. Ian notices a scar on her cheek that extends to her jaw. The moment they pass she stumbles and grabs his arm. She slides a set of van keys into his hand along with a folded paper.
“Excuse me,” she blurts as she regains her footing and walks away.
Ian pockets the keys and peeks at the paper. It’s a work order.
Everything is going according to plan. This is the craziest thing he’s ever done, and if he doesn’t do this right he will go to jail. Ian opens the passenger door and set the duffle bag on the seat. His hand shakes as he unzips the bag and takes out the tools.
Ian heads across an expansive brick courtyard toward the headquarters. It’s a simple modern design, probably built to appear as solid as a bunker. His father, the great architect, would hate it. On the other hand, it mocks ostentatious fleur in its modesty and looks as blue collar as can be. The building is ten stories or so tall with small square windows surrounded by red bricks. This is the most secure building in all of New York.
Ian passes metal barricades intended to funnel people directly toward the entrance. A hundred cops pass, going in and out as well as a hundred people in plain clothes and suits. No one even looks at Ian. He’s trying to look as confident as he can. Keep your head up, back straight, but be casual. You’re just another guy doing his job. At the entrance there are a dozen cops with machine guns slung from their shoulders, muzzles down. They’re chatting and gossiping about the game or some bit of drama.
Ian hands the work order to a man at the exterior entrance who reads over the document and hands it back, and then points to the front door. Ian passes through the revolving door framed in gold and enters the front lobby. Huge banners rise high over his head. A vertical banner says ‘HEROES’ and another displays the NYPD badge. Ian heads to a side door near the elevators. There’s an electronic card reader next to the handle. He swipes the card Zilla gave him and waits. The card reader’s light turns green, and he steps inside the small room.
Ian is greeted by a man in a white shirt wearing a bulletproof vest and carrying an M-16. “You’re not Redmond. Where’s your ID? Put your tools down and get your hands up.”
Ian’s throat fills with his stomach but he does what he’s told. There are no windows, adornments, or seats. There is a back door, plain white with more security locks. It flies open, and another guard comes through, looking like his skin is about to burst into flames. He walks right up to Ian and snatches the ID card. After a moment he looks up. “I’m sorry about the inconvenience, Mr. Hadley. We had a bomb threat in the building this morning and are running hot around here.” He moves to the back door quickly. “Stay put, we just need to run additional security checks. It’s protocol, that’s all.” The two guards leave him alone.
Oh shit, Ian thinks. I’m going to jail.