Running In Geneva

It’s pitch black out and the steady rain insures that it’s not going to get light anytime soon. It’s 5am on a winter morning in Geneva and I’m going out for a run in the rain without really knowing where I’m going.

I can remember small things…running by the florescent lit parking garages of a residential block. Towards the end of the run going down an airport road…working vehicles rumbling by me in the predawn rainy gloom. I don’t have a lot of specific memory points from that run but I wonder now if I ran by some places that my mind has confused with Richmond or Indy or something other place I’ve lived.

I’d never been there before and having arrived the previous evening, I’d never even seen the area around the hotel in daylight. But out I went, soaking wet the whole time. No distance in mind, just time. Was it an hour? Maybe.

The rain, the dark, the lack of orientation all magnified the experience. It’s why I still remember the feeling so vividly even if I can’t remember all the details. It’s a feeling filed where I can easily recall it. I’m feeling it now.

The Fear Inside

Crap. It had to be mathematics. She leaned over to Rosie and said “damnit, I can’t do this.”

Rosie reached over and patted her arm “you can do this, I mean you did fine on the Trig test.”

She looked around, she didn’t want the proctor to think they were cheating, it was one of a series of entrance tests for the Guild School. Guild was a special school for high potential students and she wanted in badly “That was different” she hissed between her teeth, “that involved symbols and words. This is just RAW numbers.”

“Do you want in the school or not? You’d better not fuck this up and make me go alone. Just grit your teeth and get through it.”

Easy for her to say she thought. But thank God for Rosie, no one else even tried to understand. Even she didn’t understand. Since she’d been in pre-school, seeing a list of numbers on a page terrified her. She had no idea why, she didn’t even know what she was scared of. The numbers just evoked this raw, visceral fear. The closest thing she could think of was of being trapped in a closet while a killer looked for her. Her body would get cold and clammy as she broke out into a sweat, and she had a hard time managing her breathing. It was not the ideal situation for a mild asthmatic.

Usually she could control it if there were no other stressors around, but taking tests, especially high stakes tests like this one were triggers. Her mom had taught her a trick that sometimes worked. Picture your Aunt Leonia bragging about her porcelain dog collection. It was a running family joke, they were cheap trinkets she picked up from 5&10 stores but she acted like they were the crown jewels. They loved Leonia though so they just all put up with it, teased her a little until she told them all to go to hell, and then got down to eating.

She looked down at the paper…almost on autopilot she had finished the first two questions. She got Rosie’s attention and gave her the thumbs up.

Rosie smiled and whispered “Love you like a rock girl.”

© Glenn R Keller 2021, All Rights Reserved

I Heard You Were Back

I have no idea what happened to her. She was beautiful, and if there is any doubt, I lost a friend over her. The older guys at the Texaco station where I worked thought I was out of my depth. “That’s your girlfriend college boy? You sure you can handle that?”

They had a point. I wasn’t handling anything…I was more or less along for the ride. If this had been noir, I would say something like “She was looking for a chump, and I was already putty in her hands.” But this wasn’t noir, and actually she was a sweetheart. Just a bit of a hot mess.

We dated and hung out and more or less cohabitated for a summer and then I needed to go back to New York to live with my parents while I worked two jobs to raise some more college money. There was a bit of a letter writing tragedy. I was in Baldwin, Long Island, New York. There is another Baldwin, New York and all the letters she wrote me went there. I had written her a few times but when she didn’t write back I just gave up.

Now you are going to ask “why didn’t one of you just pick up the phone?” Hell if I know. It was forty years ago, maybe she didn’t have a phone, maybe I didn’t give her my number but we lost touch and that was that. It was okay, it was a fun fling, but I wasn’t that hung up on it. Still, I did miss her.

But eventually I returned to college in Indiana and as far as she was concerned, I just wasn’t interested. I always knew there was no future there. She had other ideas.

“I heard you were back.” I finally got the call. It wasn’t so much an informative statement as an accusation. What she meant was…”I heard it, but not from you.”

“Well, I was in the hospital.” A true statement; all the work back in New York resulted in a bad case of pneumonia. “Besides, you never wrote back. I thought you weren’t interested.” Also true, as far as I knew.

“Don’t be silly. Of course I’m still interested.” She paused.

The best I could come up with was “oh…”

She changed tacks “I’ll make you dinner. You doing anything tomorrow night?”

Lets pause here for a minute. There was a time to lie, if I was going to lie, and this was it. Instead, I said “no.”

“Okay, I’ll see you then?” She said this with an air of finality.

I didn’t exactly lie; it wasn’t a lie because I really didn’t know what I was going to do. Now, having missed the opportunity to tell a white lie earlier, I was trapped into a bigger lie. I knew what would happen if I showed up: she was pretty without any effort, and she was sure to put in a effort. I didn’t show up and she got the message. I am sure I hurt her. But showing up, then waking up in her bed the next morning and blowing her off would have been much worse. And that is precisely what would have happened.

She tried again a few months later. “Why don’t you come over?”

This time I did her straight. “It’s just not a good idea.”

“Oh.” A more sincere “Oh” then mine. “I guess I’ll go home and live with my parents for awhile.” This was not manipulation. It was a statement of fact, she didn’t feel there was any reason to hang around. She was just letting me know it was the last chance to change my mind.

“Good bye Ali.” She didn’t say anything. She just put the receiver back in its cradle, so gently I barely heard the click.

© Glenn R Keller 2021, All Rights Reserved

A Trip Around The Sun

It’s artificial you know. Time I mean. The ancients used the movements in the heavens and the conditions they observed on earth to define it. Over millennia it has become marginally more scientific. We know why the seasons change, why it gets dark, why the moon changes shapes.

There is no dragon eating the moon.

But in terms of our understanding of the universe, to borrow from Winston Churchill: “Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. But it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.” The end we have gotten to is realizing how little we know.

But we do know we circle the Sun. All of us. Together. We tell ourselves that modernity has made the world smaller. This is an absurdity, not just because of the obvious physical laws that would be violated, but because something cannot become that which it already is…the world is vanishingly small. Our longest lasting space vehicle has been travelling at a rate of speed that would circle the globe in about forty five minutes. It has been on its journey for forty three years and it has not yet left the influence of our Sun. And there are billions of stars like our sun out there.

The Somalian pirate is on the same trip, in the same space as Taylor Swift. Joy Behar and Donald Trump are seated next to each other. There are no upgrades, no VIP packages. If a civilization advanced enough to actually find us, observed us, the cognitive difference between a human being and say, a mosquito, would likely not even register.

And yet, we tell ourselves lies because we need them, even if they kill us all. We play up differences between humans when in the cosmic scheme, there is absolutely no difference. We argue whether gender matters. We argue whether religion matters. We argue whether race matters. When the truth is, the human race doesn’t matter.

Break-up Time Machine Prompt

He took her hand, “I’m sorry you feel that way. I would have hoped you’d understand.”

“What’s to understand? We’ve been together since, well since we shouldn’t have been together.” She was crying a little now, “But I know, I mean I should have known, I can’t compete with those fancy eastern girls you met at that stupid college.”

He’d tried to time this right, his train left in ten minutes. That would give him enough time to tell her, let it sink in and then hop on the train back east. An easy escape. But it wasn’t working out, she wasn’t taking it easy. “It’s not that Bets, sometimes you just meet someone and it feels right.” The conductor was starting to shoo people onto the train.

“Pullman sleepers to the rear, coaches to the front. We’re running two minutes late, all aboard folks!” The conductor pulled a lantern out and lit it, the flame glowed red and green through the Fresnel lenses. He was getting ready to highball the engineer. The sound of steam escaping as the brakes released.

“Bets I gotta go.” I’ll write you, try to explain it better.

“Save your time and your 3 cents. I won’t read it”. She walked back to the parking lot.

From the train window he could see her car still sitting there. Snow piled up on the windshield. Was she sitting there crying? He would write to her anyway. And as the train pulled away, he pictured her in rolled up jeans, daring the boys to throw her off the monkey bars, or in her first dress at the school dance. And he couldn’t help thinking he’d made a horrible mistake.

Singing or Crying In The Rain Prompt

You’ve not eaten all day and you’re at the point where the hunger hurts, but there is no desperation…yet. After all, you’ve some options to find a meal, though admittedly they are narrowing as the evening comes on. The damned rain is not helping. The best thing you can say for the rain is that the dampness is taking your mind off the hunger. But soon you may be trading hypothermia for starvation.

Would you really starve? The rational part of your brain is saying “no”. You have water at the public drinking fountains and you know if you got desperate there are…well people that you could go to. And they would feed you, happily. But that would be indeed a high price, one that you are not yet willing to contemplate. That’s the rational part of your brain.

There is a wrestling match going on between your rationality and a rising panic. You are not a street person, you’re not resourceful. What if you couldn’t eat for another 24 hours and then it became 48? Would you go to him then…or to her? After what they’d done. You’d come so far, only to go sliding back.

And then you see it…you had not even thought to look but there it was. Friday night community fish dinner…free to all. You hadn’t gone to church for years aside from a wedding. In fact you don’t even believe in God. Until maybe, just now.

Where Everybody Knows Your Name

Jamaica Avenue is a long stretch of two and three story buildings,  many with commercial enterprises on the first floor and living quarters on the second and sometimes third floors.  It cuts clear across Queens from  West to East,  continues onto Long Island as Jericho Turnpike,  and on the West end gets lost in a maze of streets as it enters Brooklyn.

There were many neighborhoods: Jamaica, Hollis, Bellaire but we lived in Queens Village.  Across the street from us was a Flying A service station and beyond that the Long Island Railroad tracks where speeding trains whisked “rich” commuters between Manhattan and the suburbs further out on Long Island.  The blocks adjacent to our own held bowling Alleys (yes there were two),  a small grocery store,  some non-retail type businesses and our dentists office.   Our block,  was a mom and pop shopping block.   From West to East there was; Berringer the realtor,  an empty store,  a Scotsman with a collection of hundreds of toy metal soldiers in his shop window (we called him Scotty), the butcher shop,  a Chinese laundry where I played with a girl named Lin,  County Lighting where my uncle Bobby worked, and a barber shop.  Beyond that you could walk 2 blocks and find about anything you needed.  Should it become necessary,  the bus stop for Jamaica Bus lines was on the next block and that was our connection to the rest of the world.

Of all the stores, the butcher shop was the most important because my Uncle Chris was the butcher and he owned the shop.  He, my aunt and my cousin Chris Lee lived in a small apartment behind the shop…this is how it was done back then,  and how it is still done today.  My uncle owned both floors of the building; we lived in the front apartment upstairs,  and behind us lived a young couple.   We moved there from a tidy,  well kept brick house when my father abandoned us.  It must have been heartbreaking for my mother as even at that age I can remember her beautiful flower gardens and spotless interior.  But at that age I didn’t really understand and the apartment was just fine for me.  It was big by New York standards with 2 good size bedrooms,  and a large kitchen and living room.  Furthermore,  I had a good view of the railroad embankment over the top of the Flying A and the intersection of Jamaica Ave. and Francis Lewis Blvd. was busy with a steady stream of buses, trucks and other interesting things to entertain a young boy.

No matter how big the city,  everything is local and this little part of central Queens was our world.  Brooklyn,  where my mother grew up and the Bronx where my great aunts and uncles lived were like other countries.  Manhattan was like another planet, and at any rate it was for fancy people who occasionally let us in to visit Radio City Music Hall or to check out the museums.  In Queens Village my family was a presence.  Uncles worked there, cousins hung out in the bowling alleys, my mother and her sister were active at every meal and special occasion at Good Shepard Lutheran Church.  When someone got divorced or widowed,  there was usually a long lost love waiting in the wings a few blocks away.  It was, in many ways,  just like a small town.  Just like every other neighborhood in New York.

At Christmas, every store was decked out and the streets were decorated with lit up hanging decorations.  One of my most intense memories is standing in the darkened butcher shop listening to Christmas hymns playing on a record player and looking at the tree and the intricate decorations that my uncle had laid out.

I went to a nice public school, my best friend Tommy and I were in Cub Scouts and he lived around the corner,  we were part of a large protective extended family and it felt like home.  A kid in a big city with no father could do a lot worse.  It wouldn’t last.

The Cold Green Sea

She stretched her legs out in front of her, letting the sand run through her toes. The sand felt good on her feet, the same feeling she remembered getting from a warm bath. Not that she’d been anywhere near a warm bath for years. Well, she’d best enjoy it because the sun was setting behind her and it would soon be freezing.

It was overcast and breezy. Had there been a lifeguard the red flags would be out. But of course there were no lifeguards and there never would be. She was watching a group of seabirds floating in a clutch on the swells. Every now and then a shaft of light would poke through the clouds and light up the gulls, iridescent against the dark water. And then just as quickly, all would be gray again.

She used to come to this beach with her family. A year ago, just thinking about her family; her two little girls and her husband, would have made her break down. Now she was just numb. No, numb wasn’t the word, she was still mad and she would have killed them slow if she had tracked down who’d taken the girls. She saw the animals that killed her husband…took him right out of his car and then dragged him behind it. They had been taken care of, and she’d made sure they knew why they were going to die. It had turned into a cold calculus; one thing happened and then another, and the next thing you know she’s sitting on her favorite beach with an AK-47. She didn’t have much ammo left, not that there was anyone left to shoot. The roving gangs died off, exterminating each other, the survivors dying of starvation or thirst. She hadn’t seen another woman in weeks, and any man she saw she shot on sight. She was the only one of her friends that hadn’t been murdered, raped, or otherwise assaulted, the only one still alive; see a man, shoot a man. It had worked so far, but of course there was hardly any point now.

It had started with the TV news: the networks figured out if you tell people what they want to hear and get them angry enough they couldn’t help but tune in. They traded in anger, but they couldn’t hold the beast they created. The irony was when things started to spiral out of control they were the first to go. It didn’t matter what side they were on. The killer was social media where “the crazy ones” were few but had the loudest voices. It spread like a virus, most people kept out of their arguments at first but soon the middle was gone. If you tried to make peace both sides hated you. She’d been called “complicit” by both sides. The right hated her because she was a “Latina”. The left hated her because we was the wrong kind of “Latina”. Fuck all of them.

At first it was just words, keyboard warriors fighting each other, but then people started to fight in real life. Homes were burned, businesses destroyed and soon everyone was weaponed up. It got hard to get to work, the truckers were afraid to drive and the trains stopped for lack of crews willing to take the chance of being burned alive in their cab units. Then the crops started failing. Everywhere. Food was like gold and people would trade anything for it. One of the few commodities you could exchange for food was, wait for it, sex. And so teenage girls and soon even younger children were being snatched everywhere. Crystal had been taken off the street, before she’d known that it wasn’t safe for young girls to be outside, even in their own front yards, even for a moment. She never saw who took her and she never saw Crystal again. She had fought hard for Janey but it was a gang and there were too many of them, and the only reason she was still alive herself was that a bigger gang showed up and they fought over the girl. She ran out to the street hoping to buy her back from the winner. She woke up a few minutes later in a pool of her own blood caused by her head hitting the ground. That’s when she started killing gang members. It didn’t matter which gang, they were all the same.

She looked back at the boardwalk, at the row of hotels. Not a sound, not a soul. Not surprising…it would have been shocking to actually see someone still alive. She was a survivor in a non-survivable world. Maybe the fish would survive…they didn’t need fresh water. She gave a bitter laugh, she would have “googled” it but google and its data centers and the people that maintained them were long gone. She was surprised by how long parts of the internet stayed active. That figured. The thing that had caused the destruction of humanity clung to life, just in case someone wanted to look up the feeding habits of zebras or watch the odd cat video.

She had some canned food, and she thought she knew where there was water; someone had told her of a hidden stash months ago a few miles from here. But that was a long way on foot and the thirst was overwhelming now. She felt dizzy and she wanted to be in her right mind long enough to end things. It was the water that killed them all. After the crazies got hold of the nukes and the bio weapons keys and started lobbing missiles, they’d poisoned all the drinking water. There was drinkable water, but not near enough and as soon as any was discovered people started killing for it. Most people died from drinking the poisoned water or salt water. You couldn’t help yourself, you get thirsty enough you’ll drink anything.

So now, thinking when she would do it…she wanted to see the ocean at night, with the moon reflecting off it one last time. It was darkening now and a couple of running lights, white and green, shown against the purple sky. It took a minute to register…there shouldn’t be a boat. It must be a buoy still running off solar power or maybe an abandoned ship. But no, it was moving, the green starboard light told her it was moving to her right…towards the inlet. It was in the channel even though the markers were long dead. She got up and started walking down the beach toward the inlet. The moon was not up yet so there was no way they could see her on the darkening beach. She needed to know who they were, where they came from. Did they have water? Food? Were they looking for it? Well, they would either share or she would be dead just like she had planned on anyway so it was a good gamble.

She was close enough that she could hear the engines going to idle as it slipped into the narrow part of the channel. There were no other boats to avoid but they must not be familiar with the layout of the small harbor. She was maybe 100 yards away from them now and watched as they shined a searchlight around, looking for something. She decided to let them find her, but kept her AK visible out of habit. Even if they had their own arsenal, at this range she could do serious damage to a small boat. She took it to be 42 feet with diesel engines. The light hit her and she froze. The light froze too…whatever they were looking for it probably wasn’t a crazed woman with an assault weapon. The standoff went on for what seemed like minutes but it was only seconds. Finally, from the boat, a woman’s voice “are you going to shoot us with that thing?” She relaxed just a hair…at least if wasn’t full of men. She wasn’t in the mood to shoot anyone else.

“Where did you come from and what are you doing here?” The boat woman replied “we’re looking for lobster and crab pots. Anything to extend our food supply.” Made sense, if they’d have said fuel she would have known they were lying; anyone with half a brain knew there wasn’t any fuel to be found on the whole eastern seaboard. “Are you hungry? You look hungry we have food and water”. The food was one thing but water? Where had they gotten potable water? They could see her suspicion, “look, do you want some or not? We don’t know you but we’re not going to let you die out here unless you insist.” “Okay, why not…I mean what do I have to lose”. She took the magazine out of the AK and showed it to them. “This comes with me, but you can hang onto the magazine.” “Fair enough. Meet us at that pier just ahead.”

When she got to the boat they had already tied up and what she saw made her stop in her tracks. The boat was painted grey and the woman she’d been talking with was wearing the blue coveralls of a US Navy sailor. “Who the hell are you and why aren’t you flying a flag?” “We’re ex US Navy”. The “ex” was the key word, as there had been no national command authority for several years. “But how…I mean we thought you were all destroyed?” “Not all of us. We went black. No electronic emissions, no weapons fired, no nothing”. “So what ship are you from?” “Not going to tell you that until you tell us your intentions. We think we can make a go of it but we need more people like you, so why don’t you tell us who you are”?

As she told her story, she realized that though she had relived every part of it over and over again in her mind, she had never spoken any of it. It took a long time to get the story out because she kept breaking down. Another woman had come forward to listen but the two men on the boat kept a respectful distance. When she was done, one of the women said “you’ll never replace what you’ve lost, but neither can any one us. It ain’t much but we’re trying to start over. Are you in?” “I think so but I’ve so many questions”. “We have to get back, so we’ll explain on the way and if you change your mind I promise we’ll drop you right back here.”

She woke up in a rack in what was formerly officer’s country, a real bed with clean sheets…how long had it been? There was an empty bunk but due to the reduced complement of the ship she had it to herself. The United States Navy might no longer exist, but it’s stamp was still everywhere from the cryptic emergency instructions stenciled on the bulkheads to the monogramed towels and blankets. She was hungry so she got dressed and followed the signs in the passageways and the directions they had written down the night before. The carrier was enormous and it took a number of wrong turns and about fifteen minutes to find the mess. She expected to be stared at, an outsider, but she was wearing navy coveralls and even the reduced complement on board offered a degree of anomonity. The food was as advertised, smallish portions, not fancy but healthy and expertly prepared. About halfway through her second slice of bacon it hit her. Where had they gotten the meat? Where had they gotten the fresh produce for that matter? She would soon find out.

She decided to look around, she was told there would be some dangerous off-limit areas like the reactor spaces but other than that she was free to wander. Someone would let her know if she was in the way. She climbed a series of ladders until she was on a deck with a partially opened side. She looked out at open ocean and what she saw took her breath away. As far as her eye could see there were ships…of every shape and size. “Holy shit!” Just then Leslie, her benefactor from the night before, walked up behind her “good morning, I went down to look for you, figured you’d sleep all day. You seem to be navigating the ship okay on your own.” She gestured toward the opening “you said there were other ships but I had no idea…” Leslie chuckled, lets go up to the flight deck, you can get a better view and I’ll try to answer your questions.

She was looking through a pair of high powered lookout binoculars and, sure enough, none of the ships flew national flags. For every question there was an answer “the carrier can sail for 30 more years on it’s reactor fuel”, “One of the tankers in the group carried aviation fuel because there were no refineries left.” “The other ships could run on unrefined crude and there were plenty of full storage tanks around the world” “The food? The container ships had been converted to floating farms.” “Who was in charge? A board voted on by all members and they were headquartered on one of the cruise ships”. As they walked around the ship, Leslie explaining how things worked, how often the fighters flew, etc. something was eating at her: it was just a little too perfect. And where had the crew gone? They had scattered to the other ships. To help with growing food, governing, etc. When she asked if the ship carried any nukes or bio weapons she’d been told they had been disposed of. There would be no need for those anymore…fair enough.

She had to admit, the whole thing was pretty…well, it was exciting. For the first time in years she allowed herself to feel some hope. Maybe humans could survive and rise above their old racist and tribal instincts. And also, she could scarcely believe what she was feeling: a little vanity about her appearance. She told herself, that it was natural, and a sign that her old optimism could return and that what these people thought of her would actually matter. Still, she felt a little guilty as he stood under the lights in the overhead and looked in the mirror in her quarters. Under the sunburn and the baked in grime she could still recognize her beautiful face. Her jet black hair was frizzled and speckled with a few streaks of gray but her piercing blue eyes still shown as bright as ever. Her stomach flipped and she gasped. Oh my god…she realized what was wrong. Where were the people of color on this ship? Latinos and African Americans made up half the damned US Navy but where the hell were they? She felt a cold shiver go up her spine…she was a Latina but didn’t look it and her last name was German…common in the country from which her parents emigrated.

She found Leslie’s quarters and knocked “Come in, wow you’re not sleeping much. Oh well, after you get used to being on board you’ll sleep better. What’s up? There’s a lounge at the end of this passageway with a TV and a movie library if you can’t sleep. ” She took a deep breath, “where are all the Latinos? Where are the African Americans?” Leslie sighed, “why don’t you sit down?” “Fuck you Leslie, time to start talking”.

“Alright, I was hoping to give you a few days to acclimate before we had the talk but lets just say everyone is where they should be”. “WHAT DOES THAT MEAN?”. “Well, some people are more suited for manual labor and some to run things, to make decisions, do the brain work. You understand that surely.” “No I don’t. Where are they?” Leslie made a wide gesture referring to the rest of the fleet. “They’re on the farm ships, the desalination ships, the tankers, etc.” “So they’re your slaves. That’s what you’re telling me. I want off this ship. You said you’d bring me back.” “Yes we will bring you back, but why go back to the beach only to die? And what a waste. Look at you, you must have perfect genes. Why don’t you sleep on it and if that’s still what you want in the morning fine. Your loss.”

She left in a rage and walked right by her quarters, trying to calm herself down. What could she do? It was just her and thousands of…oh my god. Nazis. When Leslie hit her with the spotlight back at the inlet she must have gotten one look at her blue eyes and gotten a fucking Nazi hard-on. She wandered the passageways aimlessly, passing the occasional sailor or civilian…they were all friendly and she fake-smiled back. She wondered how friendly they’d be if they knew of her indigenous blood. Some of the men gave her that wolf-stare, she hadn’t noticed it before but she’d been exhausted and high on adrenaline. Then something her cousin Rodrigo had said dawned on her. Rodrigo had snuck into the US and managed to enlist in the navy…it was the best thing he could have ever dreamed of. He loved the United States and wanted to serve and besides, it was the best food, clothing and housing he’d ever had in his life. It didn’t matter that he had a shit job…she couldn’t remember what it was, but it was hard, hot, manual labor and he told her he had only been top side 6 times during one seven month cruise. She passed a pair of Marines guarding some sensitive space, the reactors maybe? They saw her getting ready to take a ladder down and shouted to her “you sure you wanna go down there Miss? Rough characters.” Then she realized what they were guarding was the ladder…not to keep people from going down but to keep people from coming up. “I can take care of myself”. She heard one of them whisper to the other “I’ll take care of her”, both of them laughing. She started wishing she had a weapon. The AK was under her bed, they had let her keep it as promised, little good it was though without ammo. She turned around to glare at them and they quickly apologized, like they were afraid of her…strange.

She kept going down, and the spaces kept getting hotter and then finally she heard it, someone speaking Spanish. She crept around a corner and found herself in an open berthing area. She wasn’t the only one. Everyone stared, then someone said in heavily accented English “well it looks like someone sent us a princess”. Loud laughter broke out. She replied in Spanish asking if he wanted to have his balls stuffed down his throat. The laughing stopped. “What the hell are you doing here? Are you Latina? And why do you have the run of the ship? You must be some big shots toy. ” She ignored that. “I just came aboard, they think I’m Anglo or Aaryn or some bullshit. What the hell is going on here?” An African-American man came forward, it was obvious from his bearing he was, or had been an authority figure. “You are in Nazi-Heaven darling, and we…are at the bottom of the totem pole. He held out his hand, “Lt. Commander Garson…as was. Welcome to the new world.” She looked around at them…they were an impressive looking bunch. “How could you let this happen? You’re the only survivors of this, this Armageddon and you let a bunch of Nazi’s define the future?” Garson gestured to an empty rack, “have a seat, this could take awhile.”

“They told me they “disposed” of the nukes, I guess they did in a matter of speaking.” They’d told her the whole incredible horrifying story. And now she remembered something: there had been a guy on talk radio, even when almost all of the stations were off the air, you could hear him over most of the country on the AM band in the evening when the weather was right. Everyone wrote him off as a crackpot. People were blaming the Russians, Chinese, Iranians, even the Poles at some point. But this guy kept on, and what he kept on saying was that this was no miscalculation, no lunatics taking over the nuke and bio keys. It turned out that after so many years of so many ludicrous conspiracy theories no one could recognize a real conspiracy. THEY had flooded social media with fake news. THEY had sowed the seeds of division. THEY had put weapons in the hands of the zealots. Then they sat back and let evolution do its work. And finally, when the whole world had devolved into this Mad Max hell, they administered the Coup de Grace . And it had come from the sea.

“So, you’re all gonna spend the rest of your lives down here?” A woman spoke up “we’re just waiting for our chance…and you honey, are that chance”. “What the heck can I do?” “First thing is to avoid letting them get your DNA. Once they do that you’re cooked. You’re pretty so you won’t have it bad but still, you’ll be “assigned” to some perv Nazi. “How can I put it off, Leslie will make me do it won’t she?” They all started laughing. “You think they just pick up women at random and let them have the run of the ship? This is a giant hive and with that hair and those eyes, you’re one of the princess bees.” She was confused “because of the way I look?” Garson spoke up again “this is a giant gene pool factory…how you look is ALL they care about. You wanna test it? Go up that ladder and tell one of those asshole marines to put a bullet in Leslie.” She whistled…”are you serious?” “100%…but don’t, we think Leslie can be turned. Actually we think quite a few of them will be turned. They had to go along or they’d have just shot them and tossed them overboard. And there’s a reason they flew in and rescued their families”. How much more horrifying could this get she thought “their families are hostages on the cruise ships…”

They spoke of plans and plans for plans for a few more hours, but it seemed impossible. They had all the ratings they needed to get the job done but getting jets up to the flight deck, and then getting them armed and fueled, much less launching one, might just attract a wee bit of attention. They had thought through a lot of it but it depended too much on luck, and on people risking their lives, and the lives of their families, to come over to their side. They all needed some rest so she got ready to go back up for the night but then remembered her weapon. “I have an AK under my bed but I need ammo…where can I get some standard NATO?” Someone whistled “In an AK? Lady you will blow your face off. You never fired that gun in anger, did you? This whole Rambo girl story is all bullshit, you’ve been lying to us!” “No” she shouted back at him “It’s not a normal AK-47”. There was a lot of murmuring and some swearing, “bitch, you’re a spy. We’d kill you but they’d slaughter every one of us”. But then a calm, measured voice she hadn’t heard yet spoke up. It was a petite woman who looked like she could spit nails. “Israeli?” “Yes, a Galil dammit”. The new woman nodded “she’s right. 7.62 39mm will chamber just fine in a Galil. For gods sake tell her where she can find ammo. Bring it with you in the morning. It will be guarded but like we been telling you, you’re a princess. They won’t say shit cause they wanna live”.

They were right about the ammo. She found the ready ammo locker right down from her quarters and told the Marine guard to open it. He looked her over, nodded, and let her in. Then he went back to standing watch. The next morning she grabbed a shower in the officers head after instructing another Marine to watch the door and turn away any men. On the way out, she handed her dirty clothes to the Marine, told him to have them laundered and it had damn well better be back by 14:00. They told her to act a little arrogant and she was enjoying playing the part. When she got back to her quarters, surprise surprise, Leslie had stocked her locker with some decidedly feminine clothing. There was a note on her desk letting her know the plan for the day which was for her to be on her own until around 18:00 and then her and Leslie would hang out the rest of the day and they would talk about what was next. As she read through the note, catching a few subtleties in tone, she realized that she would have absolutely no problem turning Leslie. The only qualm she felt was that if Leslie indeed turned out to be a good egg waiting for the right time, she might wind up hurting her. TBD.

By the time she descended the ladder back to the berthing area, she had put her new outfit to good use and had acquired a posse of three loyal Marines. “Don’t worry they’re with us now”. The petite woman, Ramirez was her name, whistled “damn girl, you work fast”. Ramirez looked at the Marines…you jarheads are a taking a big risk on the UNLIKELY chance you’re gonna see some fresh poontang. “No Ma’am, its nothing like that! We don’t feel any of this is right…and besides, she’s kind of hard to say ‘no’ to.” Ramirez laughed, looking her straight in the eye “yeah, I bet you are, I’m just glad you’re on our side”.

They were going over the plan for what seemed like the 20th time, but it was complicated and for everything that could go wrong, there needed to be a contingency. And there were a lot of things that could go wrong. She looked around at the team and reminded herself that these were career military…warriors, aviators, engineers, and every other rating imaginable. They’d had the whole plan worked out months ago but were biding their time, waiting for the right moment. The right moment was the moment she showed up on the ship. With her status she could stand down almost anyone that tried to interfere. Almost. She was near but not at the top of the food chain and once the alarm went out bigger forces would get involved including a Marine Praetorian guard force that would shoot dead, on sight, anyone they even suspected was jeopardizing the larger mission.

There were five ready aircraft on the flight deck; 2 Hornets, 2 Lightnings an ASW bird and a Hawkeye. They needed the Hawkeye not for its AWACS suite but for its ECM capabilities. There was only one problem: no one among them knew how to operate the top secret ECM equipment that would have to decoy the raft of missiles that would be launched against the Hornets and the ASW chopper. The Lightnings could take care of themselves. Guess who was detailed to either turn, order or force an ECM operator onto the team? This was sticky…she would have to turn Leslie and then Leslie would have to lead her to an ECM operator. It was the riskiest part of the plan. The rest was black and white…it would work or it wouldn’t. Powering up the EMAS catapults, disabling the Phalanx close in defenses, which were a threat to the aircraft right after launch, was just activating or deactivating systems that they were familiar with…but they would start attracting attention immediately. Marine sentries would try to stop them but they’d either be turned quickly or killed. That would be tough because while they were the enemy they were also their former shipmates. If you’re gonna make an omelet though…

It took less than thirty seconds to win over Leslie, she told her there was a plan. “Who is in charge?” “Garson and Ramirez, good enough?” Leslie grabbed an illegal sidearm hidden in the overhead. “Let’s go.” There were three Marines, more than expected, guarding the weapons lockers. Two of them stepped aside at her command as expected but the third looked at her with his deep blue eyes and said “fuck off cunt”. Leslie pulled the AK-47 from behind her back and wasted all of them. There wasn’t time, in fact their colleagues who needed the weapons arrived almost as the last Marine hit the deck. “You two had better hurry up and get us a damned ECM officer or we’re all dead”. They walked/ran down passageways until they came to the airwing quarters. Leslie said “I got this. Wait here” A minute later she emerged with a young ensign at gunpoint. “Sending you in would have been a waste of time, I know all the ECM guys. Assholes every one.” “Jesus Les, what if he doesn’t cooperate?” She laughed, “Oh he will. If we get shot down he’ll die with us. This one’s a pussy, he won’t die for the cause”. Things were already starting to happen, the lights dimmed slightly in the passageway as the team fired up the EMAS.

When they emerged on the flight deck the first Super Hornet was just launching and the other one was right behind. They were moving the Hawkeye into place and the security squad had set up a perimeter to keep anyone from interfering. They’d disabled the elevators and had all the entries to the flight deck covered. The only real threat was from the Island as there was a defensive weapons locker there but they’d copped two M60’s and were ready to put up a hail of covering fire. Plus that Hornet was already circling back around and everyone on the Island knew it could take them out in a heartbeat. Sooner or later though there would be a surge of armed goons from below and they wouldn’t be able to stop them all so they had to move it. Leslie was sprinting over to the Hawkeye dragging the ECM asshole with her, while she ran over to the AWS bird. Two strong arms grabbed her and literally threw her to the rear of the chopper. They lifted off.

She looked back at the ship and could see both Hornets were gone and the second F35 and the Hawkeye were lined up. A cheer went up from the front of the chopper. “They took out that French Aegis cruiser! Oh my god it’s frigging vaporized”. They circled the carrier again at a distance ready to spray the deck with their 50 calibers, but all she could see now was a flight deck crowded with the enemy trying to line up a counter strike. Wisps of smoke emerging from the cat tracks told her that would be no more launches. The covering team had withdrawn from the deck, taken out the EMAS system and now had the job of protecting the other good guys until the carrier surrendered. She was sitting close to the ASW operator now and he shouted “Magnetic anomaly, possible submarine! Shit! I’m tracking a torpedo!” The pilot raced to an attack position to take out the sub, but someone yelled “they got the carrier!”. They could all see it now a ball of flame had shot out of the fantail and the carrier was beginning to list. “That was NOT part of the plan. Who the hell is that?” Whoever it was, ignorant of the overall plan and wanting in on the action, did the logical thing and took out the biggest threat. “Drop an active buoy and ping that damned submarine, we don’t want him taking out the cruise ships, the tankers or the containers.” As it turned out, the sub focused all of its efforts on the surface combatants. “So this sub is on our side, but are there others out there?” The AWS guy shook his head, “no, there were some boomers, I mean missile boats, but once the nukes flew they sank them, kind of useless at that point.” Meanwhile between the aircraft and the submarine a swarm of Harpoons and MK48 torpedoes had quickly reduced the Nazi battle fleet to a smoking debris field.

Now they were circling the burning carrier, it was still listing and smoke was pouring from the elevator openings. “They’ll be counterflooding now and if they can get the flames under control it won’t sink”. He didn’t have to say what they all knew, they were grateful for the sub coming into the fight on their side, but the fixed wings had nowhere to land and they’d be out of fuel before they could put down on the carrier even if it managed to stay afloat. “We’re going to have eight flight crew in the water and only one chopper. Get on the horn with that sub and get them on lifeguard duty pronto”. While they were trying to signal the sub she got into a conversation with one of the door gunners. “Why did you come over to us? You’re a blue eye.” She explained that she was a Latina and that no one had taken her DNA yet. “I like to think I wouldn’t have gone for their bullshit anyway.” The gunner nodded. “I’m Filipino, my family had been serving in the US Navy for over a hundred years. This is some hard shit to take. But you know what? He motioned to the carrier. That sub did us a big favor after all. They need everybody for damage control, they can’t save the ship without our guys so for now they won’t be focused on taking hostages or killing any of them.” She wanted to tell him that the whole plan revolved around having the carrier. There was a plan ‘B’, but it meant sacrificing some of the good guys on the other ships. Best keep that to myself she thought.

The only aircraft aloft now were the chopper and the Hawkeye. The Hawkeye was tracking the remaining civilian ships which were exiting the area at best speed and the chopper was directing the submarine onto the downed fliers. All had landed near the designated ditching point and all were being picked up. Meanwhile the list on the carrier had been partially corrected and the flames looked to be dying down. The submarine was back to doing submarine stuff, which meant they had no idea what it is was up to. The carrier wouldn’t answer their radio calls so they circled and blinkered at the bridge “any movement of aircraft on the flight deck and you will be sunk without warning. Acknowledge.” They had sabotaged the EMAS cats, but not beyond repair. The pilot called out over the intercom “we are bingo fuel. I’m gonna put down on a tanker and take on fuel.” From the flag bridge of the carrier came a terse “acknowledged” . One of the tankers carried aviation fuel for the carrier air wing and unlike the fighters and the Hawkeye, the big Sikorsky could set down and fill up. They chased down the tanker which was mostly manned by allies with the exception of a small Marine guard. They circled the pilot house with their weapons pointed right at the bridge windows. The tanker, having seen all their protective escorts taken out, got the message and signaled permission to land.

There were six Marines on board the tanker. Three of them came over to them and the rest were clapped in irons below decks. They took four crewman, the two Marines and a weapons stash from a locker and re-boarded the chopper. The tanker was left with a friendly commander and crew and told to hang back from the carrier. They lifted back off and in a few minutes were back circling the carrier. They were now in radio contact with Ramirez; she and a small assault team had stormed the CIC and taken over, the carrier was now secured from sinking but there was still a firefight raging over control of the ship. They had quickly liberated their allies and managed to turn a good number of crew members, but key command positions and most of the aviators had been carefully screened and they were not going to give up. The carrier was blind after one of the F35s had tore up the masts with its 20mm cannon so even if the cats were operational, nothing was going up as long as the submarine was lurking around. Ramirez held most of the ship forward of the island and most forward areas below decks. There was a standoff in the reactor spaces but most of the machine spaces including the turbines and the critical shaft alleys were held by Ramirez. She instructed the helo to drop the six armed crewman onto the forward flight deck. On the way back to the tanker for reinforcements they shot up the bridge for good measure. By now, there was a defensive position and the return fire killed the door gunner. They left his body on the tanker for later burial and returned with seven more fully armed fighters.

It took a couple of hours and a bloodbath but the ship was secured enough for the Hawkeye to land. While the AWACs was refueling, the chopper circled ready to pick off any heroes that showed up on deck trying to interfere. None did. When you get down to it, Nazis are idiots. By sending all the people of color to do the crap jobs they had isolated themselves into a few areas of the ships. The Marines they had posted below decks were quickly overwhelmed, but in most cases come over to the rebels once they saw who was involved and that they were going to be successful. They stood down the submarine and it surfaced and transferred the aviators back to the carrier and, in a nod to tradition, the carrier’s mess transferred 10 gallons of ice cream back to the submarine. Someone had hung a banner from the island “under new management”. After tense negotiations the surviving Nazis on the carrier were transferred to the headquarters cruise ship and people were shuffled between ships until all the Nazis were on the one cruise ship and everyone else was transferred to another ship. The Nazis were given a tanker full of bunker fuel and one of the floating farm container ships and told to leave the area. No one was happy.

That evening Garson led a tense meeting on the hanger deck for everyone that wanted to attend. By the time it was over, first watch had finished at midnight and a unanimous decision had been made. There were some vocal dissenters but in a show of solidarity they had taken the decision together. All those not on watch headed for the rack. Tomorrow was going to be a tough day.

At 0500 a flight of four F35s, loaded for stealth, was launched from the flight deck. They were quickly followed by an F18 tanker and a Hawkeye. Four heavily armed Seahawk helicopters also took off and headed in the same direction. Within 30 minutes the flight leader reported back “Tanker and Container both capsized, cruise ship is down at the bow and launching lifeboats. We are inbound.” The F35s had done their part of the job. The Seahawks were there to finish it. Though heavily armed, they were also outfitted for air-sea rescue, but when they returned to the carrier they brought no survivors and the armorers noted that the 50 caliber magazines were empty. One of the Seahawk gunners walked a few yards then fell to his knees and vomited on the flight deck. “You think he’ll be alright?’ Leslie shook her head. “I doubt it. It was a terrible thing we asked those crews to do…but necessary.” They went below decks and went out to the fantail opening and stared at the wake as the ship accelerated. The submarine was somewhere, skulking around looking for threats, and they had new company: a Canadian frigate had managed to ride things out and had cautiously challenged them. The Canadians thought they were taking a gamble but the truth is the Hawkeyes had been keeping an eye on them for the past two days. One wrong move and a Harpoon would have sent them to the bottom. As it turned out they were a welcome addition, able to scout far ahead of the carrier saving the fighters the trouble of a constant air patrol. Not that they would find anything.

They were heading south. There had been shortwave chatter, up until about a year ago, that the radiation was more survivable down south. It wasn’t bad out at sea, but most of them had been exposed enough already to dramatically shorten their lives…that is except for the submarine and the Canadian frigate which had locked down in “Castle Mode” and avoided the worst of it. So the sub and the frigate would explore close in, checking the radiation levels and looking for secure anchorages big enough for the carrier. Leslie chuckled and said “well, I’ve always wanted to go to New Zealand”. She didn’t respond. She could barely make out the masts of the rest of their little flotilla and she was both depressed that this might be the last of humanity and amazed that she was still alive. Leslie offered her hand and she took it. And they stood there, hand in hand, looking at the cold green sea.

Doon

Memories are more than just recalled thoughts that flow through our brains.  The memories also evoke feelings, and can even excite the same senses.  For instance, you can still smell the coffee brewing each morning in your grandparents kitchen.  Something like that.

In 1965,  I was a seven year old city kid from Queens, NYC.  I knew nothing but pavement, subways, buses, crowded streets, cramped apartments, and Cunningham and Central Parks.  You think of the midwest as flyover country.  But if you have eyes, and senses and the openness of a young child,  it is a place, like many others, that can explode your horizons.

It started with my first plane trips;  leaving out of of the iconic TWA terminal at JFK,  then a sleek 707 to Chicago, followed by a wingover turboprop in Ozark Airlines livery.  The Ozark flight was the more interesting of the two.  It operated much like airlines did in the thirties…hop-scotching across the country from one small/big midwestern town to another.  Land. Taxi to a small terminal with people waiting on the tarmac.  Drop off some passengers, pick up some more.  Over and over until it was our time to be dropped off in Sioux Falls, South Dakota.

Sioux Falls was the big town.  I had not seen Doon yet, a tiny town in Iowa that was fully self sufficient.  Bank,  grocery, hardware,  luncheonette,  gas station, and of course the standard midwestern town park.  Shady,  with swings and a baseball diamond.

A few miles outside of Doon lay the farm of my second cousins Dot and Ike.  And it was here that my horizons expanded.  I learned to ride a bike here,  I learned to ride a horse here (I was also stepped on by a horse here), I learned to swim here,  and I saw what it took to put food on all of our tables.

We had fun, but we also did chores.  We were not there as laborers but Dot and Ike were solid parents.  They believed that daily chores were important to a child’s upbringing.  And so we put away hay, and cleaned stalls,  and fed the animals.  It was a small farm, only 44 acres as I recall.  but to me it was like a universe.  And when we had free time,  which was most of the time,  we wandered its woods, and its streams and its ponds.

I was too young to make anything out of it other than it was fun and that New York now felted stifling and confining.   And I am only now understanding how it impacted me.  I need space.  I am now an accidental Midwesterner.  I am also at heart a Southerner.  I reject the labels that are put on both places by those with smaller horizons and closed minds.  Over my young years my mother piled on more and more of these type of experiences,  and they always involved space, and they always involved the outdoors.

Post Script:

I travelled there with my Great Aunt and another distance cousin.  I have been reading a history of my family from both geanological and historical records.  I got sent down this path after reading ‘Evangeline’ by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.  We called my great aunt “Vange”.  I always thought it a strange name but that is normal in our family.  Looking at some census records I just saw that her actual name is “Evangeline”.

© Glenn R Keller 2020, All Rights Reserved

Daddy

“Daddy”. He spun around instinctively, she had not called him that in a long time. Not since the divorce anyway. They’d gone without talking for a couple of years, and he was just glad to have the chance to meet her and the grandkids for a few hours. “Yes?” “You should start dating. Even Mom says so…it’s not good for you to be alone so much”. “Okay Beth, I’ll think about it”. Beth smiled, closed the van door and was gone.

That he hadn’t been dating was a sort of penance he was doing to himself. Most nights he’d come home from the office and sit at home, lonely. It didn’t feel good. He didn’t think he deserved to feel good. So he worked out, went to the supermarket and occasionally met an old buddy for a beer. Lately he had taken to hanging out in the local library. He could sit there and read, and though he rarely spoke to anyone, at least there were people around.

The one person he did speak to was the woman at the circulation desk…nothing heavy, just pleasantries. But he’d thought she might be fun to get to know. She was one of those people who works in a library because she loves books. Now he was looking at her in a different way, like someone he might have asked out when he was good at that sort of thing; back when he was cheating on his wife. But what’s done is done he told himself. He had made peace with his ex-wife, he was rebuilding his relationship with his daughter and he’d cleaned up his own house. He knew he would never cheat on anyone again, but that’s easy to say when you’re not in a relationship.

Her name was Annette. She was pretty; with sandy blonde hair, a broad smile, and a friendly voice. What else did he need to know? Oh, and she exuded confidence. He asked her if he could buy her a cup of coffee after her shift ended. She smiled and said “no, but you can buy me a beer.”

It became a ritual, he would stop in after work about an hour before her shift ended, he’d read for awhile and around six o’clock he would ask her to dinner. She said yes. She said yes 14 times in a row until she finally said “this is ridiculous, you know I am going to say ‘yes’. She could tell he was hesitant because of the trauma he had caused himself. He had told her everything having vowed not to keep a secret from a partner ever again. So she took the lead: “It’s about time I saw where you live”. He still showed up at the library after work but now it was to walk her home…his or hers, whatever they were feeling that night.

When he invited her up to the cabin he shared with his ex-wife, she seemed hesitant, a bit out of character for her but he figured it was because of the connection to his ex. Once she got there she settled in but still seemed a little on edge. He turned on a movie, lit a fire, broke out a bottle of wine and she started to relax. Before long she was dozing with her head on his arm while he watched an old movie. Then he dozed off.

Annette shot upright, on full red alert, eyes fixed on the patio door overlooking the lake “did you hear that?” No, he hadn’t heard anything. “There it is again.” Still, he heard nothing, “there’s a lot of wildlife out there, bears, bobcats, thats what you’re hearing”. She shook her head, “no…thats a human. Where’s my bag?” Her voice was calm but her tone was urgent. “I put it on the bed upstairs…” She tore up the stairs after it. Uh oh. Now he was hearing something, and she was right, it was starting and stopping, being careful…definitely not a wild animal. She reappeared carrying some sort of automatic weapon. “What the fuck!?” “Let’s go, out of the house before it’s too late!”. She dragged him out the side door and he made for the truck, “no, get away from the truck. Into the woods, follow me”. As they made the edge of the woods the truck went up in a ball of flames. She dove behind a downed tree and he jumped in after her. “You’re not a regular librarian are you?” She grabbed the back of his head and kissed him hard on the mouth. “No. I’m not.” She shoved his face into the mud. “Keep your head down”.

He tried looking at his watch but she’d swatted his arm down. She was right, the watch face lighting up would have been like a floodlight out here. Instead he watched the sliver of a moon moving across the sky and knew it had been at least two hours. That was two hours of quiet because the carnage had been over in seconds. Still, she had put in a fresh magazine and they sat there and waited…just in case. The weapon made little noise, but he could still smell the cordite and hear the screaming of the one that took two shots. Five attackers. Six shots. All were down, and she was calm…her breathing slow and steady. They were so close that in the silence he could make out her heartbeat. It was slow. Who the hell was she? She had tied her hair back in a ponytail and it showed up off her perfect silouette in the half-light. He was either in love or terrified…or maybe both.

The sky was starting to brighten in the east when she finally thought it was safe to get up. They walked the perimeter of the clearing around the cabin until she found all five kills. Then she started searching the bodies. When they got to the first one he could see that he was wearing kevlar, with a helmet and a windbreaker. She ruffled through his front pockets and asked him to help her flip over the body. He froze. She must have seen the look on his face “its not what you think.” There were three large letters on the back of his jacket: ATF.

He was on autopilot just following directions now. She had found what she wanted: two sets of car keys and didn’t find what she knew she wouldn’t: any kind of ID. “Did you see any badges?” He shook his head, unable to speak, “Feds carry badges. Always.” His voice came back to him “then who were they?” “I don’t know but I know who sent them. I’ll explain later. We need to get out of here before someone comes looking for them. These clowns were sloppy, they’ll send the “A” team next time”. She took one set of car keys and threw them in the lake, then she grabbed her bag and told him to get a move on. There were two identical vans at the end of the driveway, just like she knew there would be. They jumped in one and took off.

Nine hours later they were on their third “borrowed” car and about 450 miles west of where they’d started. They stopped about once an hour, first using one of her credit cards, then her ATM card to take out cash and buy supplies. Then they used his cards, leaving a trail of transactions heading due west. They cruised a dark residential neighborhood until she found a grey van, a ubiquitous type. She had it started in under a minute, drove down the road, parked, then took off the plate. She replaced it with one she had taken off the van they took from the snatch team. “Why did you do that?” “It’s the one plate that no one is going to report stolen.” They stopped and filled up the van, this time being careful of security cams and using a card that was under a false name. She made a call on a burner phone she had in her bug out bag, and had a conversation in Russian. Not surprising; she had told him she had immigrated from Russia as a young girl. When she hung up, the phone went out the window into the woods and she just said “I got us a safe place to stay”. Then they headed back east.

He didn’t ask many questions on the way back, but she explained a few things without much detail. She once held a dangerous job in law enforcement and there were people that wanted to see her dead. She thought she knew who set up the grab and he was extremely dangerous, and evidently had held a grudge for years. “That’s all I can tell you for right now. I need to know if you are going to leave because if you are the less you know the better”. “To be honest, I was wondering that myself. I shouldn’t leave you alone, though you seem to be able to fend for yourself.” For the first time in hours a smile crept onto her face. “I can, but we need to decide what’s safest for you. Those creeps would have called in your plate before they attacked so you can bet whoever sent them knows who you are. You’d have to run.” “For how long? What about my daughter, my grandkids?” “Well, I was the one that killed five of his guys, but he’s gonna assume you helped. He’s really after me so he might get tired looking for you after awhile. On the other hand…he may never stop” It was a pretty stark choice; go on the run and hope someday he may be able to contact his daughter, or stay with this woman that he cared about but obviously didn’t know. He looked at her across the front seats “you’re not gonna run are you?” She shook her head, “no, I’m over this shit.”

After driving another 6 hours back east, they hopped off an interstate exit in the middle of nowhere, then turned onto a dirt road that wound up a steep hill for 3 miles. At the top was an abandoned ski resort; there were dilapidated buildings, old lift towers that looked creepy in the moon light, and a huge gravel parking lot overgrown with weeds. They rolled up to a cabin on one side of the lot that was in surprisingly good shape. “Welcome home”. Annette got out and stretched her legs then motioned for him to follow her through the front door. Inside was a sparkling clean living room with a modern TV. He opened the refrigerator and took out a bottle of his favorite beer. “Seriously, you had them stock my beer?” “We could be here for awhile, might as well be comfortable.” He nodded and guzzled the beer then helped her drag in her bug out bag and the few supplies they had brought along the way with the now useless credit cards. She had been driving for hours, not to mention the activities of the night before, so he told her to relax and he would make dinner. He hadn’t checked the pantry yet, but from what he saw in the fridge he wouldn’t have a problem finding ingredients. She kissed him on the cheek and went off to take a bath.

They’d finished dinner and were still at the table enjoying a glass of wine supplied by her “friends”. “I know you’re hesitant to give me details, but I’m here, and I’m trusting you with my life. Time to fill me in.” She sighed, “I was undercover for two years. This was an extremely bad guy and we wanted him.” “Two years and you couldn’t grab him?” She shook her head “thats not the way it works. He supplied money, inititated some things, but there was a huge network of people with blood on their hands. We needed all, or at least most of them. We were getting close, really close, and then it all went to shit. They’ve murdered so many more…because we didn’t finish the job”. “So…he wants you dead? Why would he bother? You were a Fed doing your job. Why would he risk bringing so much more heat on himself?” Annette got up and stood at the window; looking at the moonlit mountains with her back to him. “He holds a special grudge for me. I was his mistress.”

Neither of them said anything for a long time. Finally, he got up and said “fuck this, I’m going for a walk.” Annette had never been angry at him but that changed in an instant “you bastard! Are you fucking judging me? Mister ‘I screwed everything in a skirt while my wife and little girl were at home waiting for me’?” “Excuse me, I’m having a hard time processing that your job involved putting some thug’s dick in your mouth.” “I did what I had to do, if you don’t like it, there’s the door. You can fuck yourself on the way out”. He took a deep breath and turned back towards her. “I’m sorry. Someone just tried to kill me, I’m in hiding for fear of my life, I haven’t slept in 24 hours and I found out instead of a librarian I’m dating fucking Atomic Blonde.” She took it down a notch “I really am a librarian. I never lied to you”. He nodded “no you didn’t lie. You just left out all the interesting parts”. They both started to laugh, “go for your walk before we kill each other. Don’t be alarmed, the friends that helped with this place are coming by to try and help us get out of this alive.” “Are there going to me more surprises?” She shrugged, “Yep”. He nodded and headed outside to clear his head.

He was back in a minute…”tell me these are your guys”. He was followed into the cabin by two tall lanky men who looked like the kind of guys you call when you need something fixed in a hurry. She spoke to them in Russian then turned to him “sorry, we’ll speak English from now on. This is Sasha and Yuri”. They all nodded at each other and he asked “so do the Feds use a lot of Russians?” Sasha spoke up “we are not with Feds.” He looked at Annette “but you said you were a Federal agent…” “No, you said that. I said I was on an undercover assignment. You filled in the rest.” He started to freak out, “oh that’s just great you’re all Russian spies, you kill people and now I’m on the lam with you.” Sasha asked Yuri “what he means ‘on the lam'” ? Yuri shrugged. He started yelling, “who the hell cares??? If I don’t get killed I’m going to jail and will probably share a cell with Boris here”. Annette intervened “we’re not spies, we’re police, or I should say we were police”. His head was spinning, “Russian police working in the U.S. and this is Kosher?” Yuri wiggled his hand “sometimes is Kosher sometimes is not”. “Which time is this?” “Sometimes your police work in Russia. Sometimes government says ‘okay come get these guys’. Sometimes government says ‘no'”. “And now?” “Sometimes government doesn’t want to know”. He looked at Annette “I need a drink”

They were all staring at him and he shook his head. “You’re crazy. I get it, he killed over 200 Russian children, now I want the guy too. But they’re just gonna kill me and then torture and kill Annette. There’s just three of you.” “We have other help”. “Who”? “Good help”. Yuri bent close and whispered to him “let’s take a walk”. They got up to leave and Annette wanted to walk with them but Yuri stopped her: “Just us, we are going to talk”. Annette shrugged and sat back down while they headed outside.

Yuri put his hand on his shoulder; “I am going to tell you the truth. This is dangerous.” “I know. So whats the plan?” Yuri filled him in…it made sense but who was he to judge? It seemed like there were a lot of assumptions but what choice did he have? “Are you in or out? You could be killed. I am just being honest.” “Yes, I know, but these guys are after Annette and my god those children…”. Yuri nodded, “Look, not everyone is supposed to be hero and you have a daughter and grandchildren. Are you sure?” He nodded “I’m in”. “Thank you my friend, we will do our best to protect you”. “Just get that guy and take care of Annette”.

The next morning, Yuri and Sasha had dissappeared, having risen early and presumably off to set the plan in motion. They would be intentionally giving away their location, so he was all in now. The irony was that he and Annette had slept together for the first time that night. It wasn’t the romantic moment he had envisioned, but they made up for a lot of time that they both knew they may never get. But now it was all business, they drove to the nearest town, walked into a diner and ordered lunch. They couldn’t see him but they knew Sasha was outside somewhere where he had a good view of the restaurant. They took their time eating and when they were done, Annette got up to leave, kissing him goodbye and headed out the door. He wondered if he’d ever see her again.

He ordered another cup of coffee as two grim faced men came into the diner and picked a table between him and the door. He pretended to watch a video on his phone but he was really watching for a text from Sasha. It came about 10 minutes after she left. “They have her”. He glanced up at the two men that were presumably watching him: no reaction. Just then three teenagers came in the restaurant, a boy and two girls. One of the girls gave him a big hug, then sat down in the booth next to him. The other two plopped down opposite and he called the waitress over and they ordered food. The kids all knew each other and talked about some drama at school. He noticed the two goons starting to get restless. He had to smile; the kids were part of the “help” that Yuri had told him about.

Suddenly, the goons were gone. The kids had distracted him ordering food and he hadn’t noticed. He texted Sasha letting him know. “Good. Stay there with the kids for another hour but I am sure they’ve decided you’re not a threat.” Then one more update “everything going well. Don’t worry.” Easy for him to say. Part of his job was done, he had drawn off a couple of the bad guys and kept them occupied. He was probably safe but Annette could be dead any minute and if Sasha and Yuri didn’t make it, he’d never know what happened. They didn’t even know where this guy was, though Annette was sure he was in the area. “This is the best place to hide, there are so many spies around here he would just blend into the background noise. Besides, the US isn’t looking for him”. He hoped to God she was right.

He got a message from Sasha. It was an address and he knew exactly what to do; it was a town in the next state. He looked up the local police department then pulled out a burner phone and gave them a ring. He avoided calling 911 so they couldn’t see where he was calling from. “I’m not sure but I think someone fired shots at me after I dropped off a package”. He pulled out another phone and handed it to one of the girls. She did a great job sounding hysterical: “someone chased me and tried to grab me when I jogged by the house”. She gave the name of some girl she had found in an internet article about local high school sports. The result was predictable. Within a few minutes another text from Sasha “Police pulling up. You should leave now. There is a room for you at the motel down the street. Check in and hang tight. You are clear.” “Clear” meant that he had no tail waiting outside the diner, not that he was out of danger. How Sasha could know that or where he was he would love to know but he’d been told the less he knew the better. He assumed it was more of that “help”.

He wanted to talk to Beth, but of course he couldn’t. He’d been using a phone he’d gotten from Sasha and Yuri along with the burners because he didn’t dare turn his on. So he spent a sleepless night eating microwave dinners, snacks and cheap beer he’d gotten from the motel lobby. He fell asleep and woke up just after eight the next morning and still nothing on his phone. Yuri had told him that if he didn’t hear something by 10am to walk down to the Amtrak station, take the 10:30 and to run and keep on running. He packed up and walked back to the diner to get a proper breakfast. That was part of his own plan. Supposedly Sasha had swept the area but in case someone was watching him we would look relaxed…not like someone that was going to run to the police. When he was done eating that would put him that much closer to the train station. He hoped it wouldn’t matter. He grabbed a newspaper and read every story in the sports section. Apparently the local high school team had a hot baseball prospect, a pitcher, and he’d signed with the Reds. It was 9:50, and despite trying to remain calm he was shaking. Even when they were being shot at he wasn’t that scared but now he could feel fear burning a hole in his stomach. He pulled himself together, paid the check and headed for the station, trying not to think about his life spiraling away from him.

He started walking and pulled the phone out. He hadn’t heard it or felt it buzz but he looked at it desperately hoping there was a message anyway. Nothing, just a text from Beth…wait, he looked at the phone again, he’d pulled the wrong phone off the charger in the morning! He went through his day pack and came up with the phone Sasha had given him, it was dead. It was 10:05, shit, they would think he’d gotten spooked and run if he didn’t answer and then what? He sprinted back to the diner and found an outlet and waited for the phone to get enough charge. Finally an apple appeared on the screen and it started up…so slow, damnit hurry! Finally he unlocked it and waited…a string of text notices flew by on the screen…he went to the last one: “Where the fuck are you? We have to leave NOW” he couldn’t type straight but finally he typed “Dine” frigging spell check, he was starting to retype when a car rolled up and screeched to a halt “get in!” It was Sasha and Yuri, with a woman he didn’t recognize and more importantly without Annette. “We almost left you, we have to move. What the hell happened”. “I’m an idiot, I had the wrong phone”. Yuri shook his head but was sympathetic, you are not professional, nerves make us do funny things.” He was afraid to ask “where is Annette and who is this?”, jerking his thumb at the backseat. “Annette is fine and this is ‘Miss you don’t need to know'” He looked over at her “she just shrugged but smiled. She didn’t look like someone you wanted to tangle with so the smile was clearly just to calm his nerves.

“Annette is okay. You should go home now, the police will be looking for anything out of place and this town is not so far from where he was. That includes people checking into motels and strangers eating in diners.” “But we used a fake name.” “Correct” said Sasha “ but not a fake face”. He nodded “why are the police looking around and did they arrest the guy?” The three Russians laughed. “He won’t be bothering anyone anymore.” “You killed him?” “No, police killed him. Such a shame. Is crazy to shoot at police, they’re always going to kill you”. “You said the guy was smart why would he shoot at them?” “I never said he did.” His mouth fell open…YOU shot at the cops?” Yuri shrugged “just over their heads, no harm done”.

They had taken him to the bus station “how did Annette get away?” Sasha laughed “she is good looking woman with Krav Maga skills. Young meathead guards with guns are no match”. He could only imagine. “So when will I see her again?” Sasha put his hand on his shoulder “thank you my friend. Now go to your home”. He shook hands with both of them, but the woman remained in the car giving him that odd smile.

“So what’s this?” Beth was fingering a bronze medal with a red star imprinted. It hung from a red ribbon and there were Cyrillic letters around the outside. “It looks Russian”. “Oh I picked it up at an antique store. It looked interesting.” Sasha had given it to him as an award to thank him for his help. “You should find out what it says.” “Yeah maybe I should”. He already knew what it said “Finisher, Sochi Marathon 2014”. That was Sasha’s sense of humor but he knew it was actually heartfelt by all of the Russians. “Well, she seems nice”. They had just gotten back from dinner with Annette who had taken a walk so that he and Beth could have some time alone. “You actually found someone age appropriate but it’s hard to believe she’s 60, looks forty.” He put two fingers up in the air “honest to God”. Beth laughed, “I believe you. What did you say she does?” “She’s a librarian”. Beth put her arms around him in a hug. “I’m happy for you Daddy. Just what you need; nice and calm and no drama”. “Thanks honey, you’re right. No drama.”