ian

The Examiner Blogger

And the Wind Will Carry Us Away
Post Date: June 16, 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, June 15, 2019, at 8:00 PM EDST, the president, members of his cabinet, the Joint Chiefs of Staff, leaders of both houses of Congress, the governor of New York, the mayor of New York City, along with federal and state law enforcement, issued a joint National Terrorism Advisory System (NATS) Alert of Imminent Threat. This alert, described by one of this reporter’s contacts as “a genuine, no-chance-of-anybody-getting-the-wrong-f**ing-envelope Red-Label Level-5 Alert, the highest there is for public issue, and nobody is saying when—or if—this alert will end.”

No clear reason for this NATS alert has been given at this writing.

The Department of Homeland Security Containment Plan was immediately set in motion for the Island of Manhattan, giving local authorities no time to advise citizens of the specific dangers and how individuals should protect their families and themselves.

Minutes after the alert was issued, elements of the military and homeland security acted to forcibly quarantine over 10 million people, bombing bridges, flooding subways, sinking private yachts, and filling the Hudson River with destroyers and heavily armed Coast Guard patrol boats. Rumors of martial law being declared are rampant. No declaration from the president or congress has been made as of this writing.

Now, the news rags are saying the CDC issued a bulletin, advising citizens to remain calm because the virus is non-lethal.

Other sources are saying the Containment Plan, unofficially known as “Operation Forty Days” stopped a deadly virus from escaping the island, tacitly blaming the CDC for “underestimating the virulence” of the disease as the reason for not allowing anyone, including medical and rescue personnel, into Manhattan.

Yes, once again, the “mainstream” news rags, parroting the official Homeland Security line, are reporting the containment has worked, the situation on Manhattan Island is “fully under control.”

They spew lies.

This morning, I left my Long Beach home to get close to the containment line and was shocked to see both the Hudson River and the Lower Bay vacant of Navy and Coast Guard vessels. No soldiers—no New York National Guard personnel, active duty Army, Navy, Marines, or Coast Guard—or state or local police officers are 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. This contagion is clearly lethal, the mechanisms it uses to spread and reproduce are unknown. No information regarding efforts to stop the spread, create a vaccine, or medical strategies for treating the sick has been issued to the citizens of Manhattan.

I fear for the future of humanity, and for myself. Darkness lingers in the corners of my vision. I am without hope.

Chapter 1

Ian Gladstone:

Soldier in the Making

The world is forever changing, that’s what it’s good at, so be a part of that change. That is the takeaway from the graduation speech. Ian Gladstone is in the front row, in cap and gown, trying to think past cheeky colloquialisms and motivational dribble to see if the speech applies to him.

However meaningful the words are meant to be, Ian misses it. He pulls the sleeve of his hand-stitched graduation gown, checking his watch, missing his name being called.

A classmate nudges Ian, knocking from his cap a carefully placed curl of jet-black, neatly trimmed hair. He tucks the hair away and speeds up the steps to accept his master’s degree, only to rush off stage and grab his briefcase. He doesn’t notice the three-hundred-dollar flower arrangements, the gold trim on his professor’s gown, or the bright-eyed alumni in the crowd. He isn’t excited to be done with school; he never really cared. It was his mother’s biggest insistence, though she can’t be bothered to show up for the ceremony.

Today is a big day and time is tight, thanks to dragging-out stupid ceremonies. Ian’s phone buzzes as a cab stops at the curb. He texts his mother, the Senate staff assistant, and the event coordinator his revised time frame.

Ian is his mother’s campaign coordinator and speech writer. He’s been helping her win election after election since he was twelve. Tonight she’ll win her third consecutive seat in the US Senate as the senator from New York. It’s a big deal.

The cab weaves in and out of traffic, allowing Ian to tighten up his mother’s acceptance speech. He’s a good writer, knows the right words to say, and can bring about shouting as easily as tears. The trick is to know how to blend lies with the truth in order to paint the most powerful story into people’s minds—just remember to be fact-check proof, too.

Ian gets out of the cab and waits for traffic to clear before heading across the street to Webster Hall, the famous Queen Anne-style theater that gave birth to labor union rallies, weddings, dances, and lectures. It’s a symbolic place for an acceptance speech, paying homage to the working-class and immigrants in the Lower East Side neighborhood. Now it’s a bumping nightclub and concert hall, but still fills with blue collars most nights. The redbrick façade is weather stained and its marquee as old as the city itself, but that’s its charm. You can miss it, if not paying attention.

A man in a dark suit blocks Ian.

“Excuse me,” Ian says, trying to go around the man.

His skin is deep tan, his glasses mirrored and hair cut short. “Walk with me a moment, Ian Gladstone.” The man turns Ian’s shoulder forcefully, and the two head away from the theater.

“Do I know you?”

“I want to warn you, because you could have a bright future ahead. Your mother got the virus.”

“What the hell are you talking about?” Ian flushes with mounting anger. “I’ve got shit to do, man.”

“The virus is some sort of romanticized idea that central powers can solve everyone’s problem. And because of your mother’s wandering eye and greedy hands, she’s getting into trouble. Playing with the wrong people and fixing to spend twenty years in a federal prison.”

Ian stops dead in his tracks.

The man continues to walk, but turns. “Don’t be a fool, Ian. Get your mother to turn herself in and we’ll go easy on her. Otherwise, she’ll go down as a traitor. I’ll be in touch.” He turns and walks off.

The anger in Ian’s chest vanishes, replaced by stabbing fear in his stomach. What is that guy talking about? Who is he?

Ian finishes his mother’s acceptance speech, albeit distracted and confused. He helps coordinate the team setting up the decorations in Webster Hall, verifies street closure and press pool area, and makes sure the food and wine are being handled. He checks the polls, but they’re handsomely in his mother’s favor, there is no worry there, so he goes home to wait until evening.

Time falls off the clock like falling bricks, but eventually, the polls close, his mother’s success is announced. Ian feels no relief. His mind searches, thinks, uncovering suppressed memories, ignored emotion. The human brain loves patterns. It also notices breaks in those patterns.

Ian’s mother, not shy about talking on the phone around anyone, had begun to shush her conversations when Ian entered the room. She went places at night, alone, and had been increasingly stressed this election—though it is a landslide.

Circumstantial. Ian shuts the worry off like a leaky hose bib and rushes off to go celebrate his mother’s success.

The limo drops Ian off at Webster Hall amid a hundred reporters and fans. There will be some pop stars in attendance tonight, and some deep pockets.

The music thumps the street, the wine and liquor flow, and the balloons drop. Flower bouquets crowd the stage, and the backdrop is a huge American Flag. It reminds Ian of his graduation ceremony, one he barely had the time to enjoy, let alone share with his mother. He’s here for her, but not the other way around. Ian’s bothered more than he initially thought. Is she that selfish? Could she be breaking election rules to get ahead? If so, it won’t be just her career that ends, it will be his.

It’s just before midnight when Ian leaves the celebration with his mother. She’s drunk, her eyes red, her sway pronounced.

Ian didn’t have a drop. He shifts nervously but finally spits out, “I was approached by some guy that looked like a Fed.”

His mother sits up, her blue dress wrinkled, the carnation pinned to her V-neck falling. “Intimidation. Those filthy Republicans.”

“Are you in trouble? You have to tell me.”

“Pffff,” she says. “You know how the shitheads play. It’s all fucking lies. Don’t worry about a thing.”

Ian helps his mother to her room and lays her on the bed, stripping her shoes off and tucking her feet under the sheets. “Goodnight, Mother.” He leaves a glass of water next to four ibuprofen on the nightstand and heads to the balcony to smoke. Something doesn’t feel right. She’s not acting like herself. First off, she doesn’t cuss and secondly, she had popped some pills earlier that Ian had never seen her take.

The night glows of streetlights and backlit windows. Cars zip by, unfazed by the late hour.

Halfway through the cigarette, a man, the same man, steps from a black SUV parked across the street. He stands in the middle of the road, looks up, puffing on his own cigarette.

Ian heads downstairs, out the front door, and to the sidewalk.

“Who are you? What agency are you with?”

“FBI.” The man pulls out a badge and holds it up, but it’s too dark to see. “Are you going to help your mother?”

“By turning her in? Are you serious?” Ian shakes, afraid, but trapped.

“Make a deal with us. Tell us everything you know and she’ll get a slap on the hand and your career will not get hit. Win-win.”

“Nothing’s win-win.”

The guy hands Ian his card, tosses his smoke into the road, and smashes it. His foot twists and twists until the butt is nothing but filament. He leaves.

Ian paces on the sidewalk. The more he thinks about it, the more he knows his mother is doing something illegal. He just had to open his mind to see the truth. She is caught up, infected by some viral thought. She’s justifying what she’s doing, and Ian will need to dig it out of her.

He doesn’t sleep. He smokes, tries to watch TV, tries to exercise, but it’s all too much. Every minute that passes feels like an eternity, and every breath inflates his resolve to turn her in. Won’t she get off easy that way?

At four in the morning, Ian hears the back door slide open. His mother, still in her blue cocktail dress, no shoes, slips outside with a large black briefcase and a shovel. She digs a hole under the rose bushes, quickly, and buries the case. She tries to fix the grass so it looks untouched. She fails.

She returns to the house and takes a shower.

Ian digs the case up and opens it with a screwdriver. There’s over a million in cash. He gasps, sweat trickling down his forehead, and turns just as his mother steps outside. Her hair is wrapped in a purple towel, another one around her body.

She doesn’t say a word.

Ian tips up the briefcase and dumps out the money. The stacks of hundred-dollar bills fall to the grass. “Is it worth it? You’re fucked and so am I.”

She’s stiff as a statue, her eyes dark. “You can’t tell anyone,” she says, calmly.

“What did you do?” Ian yells. “Whose money is this?”

Her head rises, she’s looking down on Ian. “The less you know the better. So, stop snooping.” She starts inside, pauses. “Pick all of that up and rebury it.” She goes upstairs, her feet feather light as though it’s a relief Ian found out.

Ian doesn’t bury the money. He sets it on the breakfast table, shedding dirt on the table mats. He makes a cup of coffee and, while it brews, slips his hand in the pocket of his slacks, thumbing the Fed’s business card.

The doorbell rings. Ian opens the door. He is so tired, but vibrating with an alien feeling. A massage therapist pushes inside—he knows where to go, lugging his table and bag, his white shirt pressed and bright.

The world is a strange place. People are strange, but like animals, self-preservation is the number one rule. Ian dials the FBI and steps onto the porch. “I’ll tell you everything I know.”

A dozen agents show up. They interrupt the massage, take the money, and haul the newly elected senator out the front door. She’s not mad. Sadness fills her eyes, streams down her cheeks, but her jaw locked tight.

#

The Feds release her on bail. Ian had moved out, an order from his enraged father, but he visits her.

“Mom!” Ian calls out.

“In bed,” she responds.

She stands in her bedroom doorway, wearing red silk pajamas. Ian notices how thin she looks, how her top sits on her bony shoulders like she’d forgotten to take out the hanger.

“I’m sorry,” Ian says. “I-I couldn’t flush my life down the shitter.”

She motions him through the door and closes it. “I understand. I brought you up to follow the law. Drink this.” She hands him a scotch on the rocks.

Ian downs the drink in one gulp. “I feel like shit.”

She sits on the bed. “You should.” She breathes deep. “There’s one thing you don’t understand. The rules are bent out of shape. They’re so messed up. I broke them to gain the power to fix them. But I see my folly. Humanity is a caterpillar begging to cocoon and hatch into a butterfly. The whole system must be destroyed in order for a new one to emerge.”

Ian listens. He never heard the skeletons in her closet rattle, but someone heard their seductive whispers.

“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.”

“What!” Ian snaps. He thought all this is about broken campaign finance law. Not espionage.

“They are lies.” She shifts her eyes away as if she is lying.

“What are you talking about?”

She shakes her head. “My opponents in government manufactured terrible lies about me and fed them to the media. And the media is buying the deception.”

Ian knows how politics play out, or thinks he does. “If they’re lies, you fight them in court. We’ll prove your innocence. You’re being targeted because you’re fighting the neo-cons.”

She refills his tumbler and her own. They drink. Her eyes flutter. She is pale, skin and bones. “I will lose this fight, because the right-wing military-industrialists’ powers are too strong. I have to pass the torch to you now.”

“Wait a second.” Ian sets the glass on the nightstand among dozens of photos of him with her, from his newborn pictures to now.

She turns Ian’s face so he could look into her eyes. “Take the torch and run with it. We’re close to changing the system, 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 roll and she sways. “The powerful need to be checked. They are the thieves. Someone must take from them.”

“You’re stinking drunk. I guess I can’t blame you.”

She collapses, folding into the down comforter like a stone.

“Jesus, what’s wrong?” Ian touches her arm, then her forehead. Clammy.

“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. A man will contact you, his name is Zilla. Trust him.”

What’s going on? I’m calling the ambulance! You look terrible.”

Her grip tightens on his arm. His heart pounds and swells. Dizziness rolls through his brain as his veins flood with molten lava. The room darkens like shadows closing in. She pulls him down and hugs him hard. Ian pulls away, crying. “I need to get help,” he slurs.

“I remember you as a baby, and a boy. I remember your first bike, your broken arm, when you were at my swearing-in ceremony. . . I’m sorry I missed your graduation ceremony. Master’s is a huge step up.”

Ian climbs off her bed, feeling as if someone had strapped bricks to his chest. “Phone, Mother! Fuck!” He pulls his phone from his pocket, swipes the screen open, and tries to focus on the icons. They’re blurry and swimming over the screen. Ian moves toward the door, but can’t pick his foot up off the carpet.

Her voice softens to a whisper.

Ian falls to his knees and struggles toward the door. “Mother! What ju-do to me?” he said, slurring.

“I love you and I forgive you. Take my torch,” she says, over and over. “Trust Zilla.”

Ian turns back to her, then loses all sensations before crumpling to the plush carpet.

She dies in her bed.

#

Ian took up his mother’s torch. Though the press had thrown her under the bus for weeks, it became surprisingly gentle after her suicide. She left a twenty-page document expounding her innocence, and her loyal community believed every word.

Ian did, too, but doubts remained tucked in the folds of his brain like lint in a pocket. No matter the truth, he begins his career of mischief and malcontent in her shadow. His life tumbles through chaotic, backroom political rallies, self-avowed communist organizations, and unsavory, less-than-legitimate activist groups. He longs for a better world and wants to destroy this one in order to build it. He lets his hair grow long and forgets about suits and campaigns. He’s coming at society from behind.

One year to the date, Ian gets an email from Zilla.

Be a part of the change, Ian. The email reads. Are you willing to get your hands red?

Ian smiles. “Hell yeah.”