By Dennis Detwiller, © 2013.
She dumped the phone in a trashcan at an anonymous McDonald’s off the interstate. Let them track that, she thought, and grimaced. Acid crawled up her throat as she watched blurs flash past from the parking lot. A million lights arcing in neon and curving, slowing, winding to Capitol Hill beyond.
Even though it was a burner, the phone could no longer be trusted. Nothing electronic could be trusted anymore. It had all been so easy, once. When this began for her.
The food was half-eaten and spilled and scattered in the front seat. Her hair was pulled back — grey at the temples — stretching her face; jowls given new lift. She looked in the rear-view and saw her eyes, and there was no recognition in them. She was someone else now. Her old life was done. She had bugged out with an efficiency she had thought beyond her. It went well. Her practice had made the difference.
Ten minutes in and out; the closet, the backpack. Through the house with the ringing telephone, an imagined grand jury calling her name, looking for her testimony. Up on the Hill. Gavels and feedback and the relentless tape recording her every false response.
Twenty-five years in Leavenworth or a life on the run. The choice that wasn’t really a choice.
It was bigger than her hope for comfort in what remained of her life. This was the biggest choice any human could ever hope to make. Next to it, everything was smoke. Lives, countries, entire histories; smoke.
And there was Christie.
On the seat next to her were a Remington shotgun, a trash bag full of cash, and documents. Each of the four files, which were bound together with a rubberized clip, was marked by a single, emerald stamp. Special clearance. How long had it been since she’d been taken in?
How many crimes had she committed in that name before she even learned it wasn’t real.
She drank some watered-down Diet Coke and tried not to think about what was required of her, now.
The house in Andover was a saltine box and when she arrived it was closing in on 10:30 at night. It was a frame of glowing windows, lighting a summer lawn, rich with fresh rain. Shadows moved around the house. She counted four.
Had she hoped he would be alone? At home? The false family man? Even now, she was amazed she could be so ridiculously naive.
She wiped her face and hands down with a wet-nap and went up the walk.
The doorbell was an obnoxious, sing-song chime, and she stood, straightening her shoulders as the door opened.
“Amanda,” Detlev said.
“Hey, D,” she replied.
“Come on in,” he said, smiling, trying to look pleased to see her.
The house was perfect. Obnoxious like the chime. Knickknacks and pictures of a smiling family. Carefully laid wallpaper and perfect floors and people who half-paid attention to her presence as they walked through the house.
Detlev’s office was off to the side of the house, and the family was used to patients walking through the main entry to go into the back for a session. It was late, but none of the others even looked up. She counted a head on the couch, and a shadow in the kitchen; that left one upstairs.
The office always reminded her of a ship. Narrow, long and wooden, stuck on the side of the house. An old steel desk and plants, and a view of a yard which was birch trees in the day but which was now simply a wall of black. When Detlev switched on the lamp over the desk, a perfect reflection of the room appeared in the window, another Amanda, another Detlev.
His computer screen, turned away from her, jumped to life as he sat. It was a blurred reflection in the window, but she watched it.
“So, the hearings, huh?”
“Yeah, they keep on keeping on.” Amanda sat in the old chair opposite the desk. Detlev leaned over and took out a flask and two Dixie cups from a drawer. He poured the brown liquid. She placed her purse next to the desk and slid closer to it.
“Do you still believe in all this? D?”
He looked at her for a bit and then drank and slid the other cup across to her. He poured another.
“You know what we saw. You know about the book. About the cycle.”
He was not smiling now. Once, he had shaken her and screamed in her face and wept in the back of a car, covered in the blood of a nine-year-old boy in North Carolina, his head in August’s lap. Tonight, he looked comfortable in his choices. And she knew he was right.
“I know. I just need to hear you say it,” she said, staring at his eyes. He looked away.
Detlev leaned over to his computer and typed something.
“Sorry, something important,” he said. He tapped some keys. The swoosh of an email.
She stood and shot him in the face.
The gun popped and jumped in her hand. Pop. Pop. Pop. There was no flying back of the body. No twitching. Just a slump. Detlev was gone with the first shot, his face a ruined mess.
Her ears whined but she still heard the commotion in the house.
Amanda leaned over and looked at the computer. A mail window. Sent messages. AvGav@gmail.com. August Gavener, a name which rode one of the files in her purse. Subject line: “GO.” No body content.
Amanda shot the teenage girl from the hip at nine feet and caught her in the chest. Center mass. Her instructors would be proud. The girl clutched her side and fell, gaping. Dead in seconds. Lucky shot.
Amanda stepped back around the desk and almost fell, her foot rolling on a spent shell.
But after that it was a relentless march through the confused house. Pops and falls. Blood and crawling and covering of faces and only one real scream before it was all over.
Then Amanda was in the upstairs bathroom. The sink full of cheeseburger and Diet Coke. Her face tattooed in blood and vomit and flecks of gunpowder.
“Oh, fuck you, fuck you, FUCK YOU.” She smashed the mirror with a hand that felt like someone else’s. It fractured in a very undramatic manner, and her blood ran down the glass in rivulets to the newly installed soapstone countertop. Another fixture lovingly laid for the dead family.
Then it was gasoline and a fire that ate up the house and the night. She had to go. She had to go.
She dialed the odd number on a pay phone — she memorized where they could still be found — and listened as it clicked and clacked to connect the line. At one point a modem-sound picked up, and then a single, deep BING.
“D is done,” she said, trying not to cry. “He warned Gavener. I want to talk to Christie.”
“Remove the targets on the list, and she will be released at Ronald Reagan airport,” the British, digital voice said.
“I want to talk to her, now, or this is over.” Amanda was crying now.
The voice replied after a pause. “Do you really want this to be over?”
“I NEED TO HEAR HER, YOU FUCK,” Amanda screamed.
There was a pause, and then the click. Of a playback? A girl crying on the line; weeping, Christie. Wheezing and confused. Terrified. Her little girl.
“What? What? What do you want? AHHHHHHHHH!?” Christie shouted. She could be rotting in a ditch somewhere. The playback proved nothing. It was new to Amanda, that was all.
Then the click and a dial tone.
The house was on a winding forested road. Out front, a comic mailbox and two trailers parked like a cross. The lights were still on.
Gavener had no plan. That was clear and not surprising. He was a techie, and they tended to be disorganized. This is what fifteen years of field work had taught her. The friendlies they brought in were ridiculously inept at all things involving any gravity, but they had their uses.
Gavener and Detlev had been lovers for some time now. The group knew about that too. In a better situation, she could have taken them both out during one of their trysts.
But this had all come down so fast. Michen had flipped so quickly and the names that were going out in the subpoena were leaked and here she was, neck deep in blood again.
Gavener didn’t come to the door and Amanda didn’t stand in front of it.
“Open the door, August,” she said to the storm door.
“Fuck off. Where’s Detlev?”
Even now, he didn’t know what was what.
Inside would be just a coda; just the noise of Gavener breathing heavily, crying, over the television.
She went back to her car.
They trained in a lot of things at Quantico. Breach and clear, this was called, and it was old hat. She smashed the window to the right of the door with the butt of the Remington, dropped the shotgun so it hung on the sling, removed the flashbang from her tactical pack, pulled the pin and dropped it through the hole. It ROARED a second later and smoke poured from the window.
She picked up the Remington and blew a hole through the handle of the door. Inside, she found Gavener on his hands and knees with his back to her, crawling aimlessly around, blood puddling below his face. She put a slug through him and ripped his chest apart.
At least she didn’t have to see his eyes.
She stood, ears covered in hearing protection and looked down at the body. Smoke and blood and underwear and the smell of cooked meat. Blue white light played across the room from the television.
On the flatscreen television, a senator was swarmed by reporters. Amanda heard nothing, but the crawler on the bottom of the screen read:
SECRET SOCIETY WITHIN THE FEDERAL GOVERNMENT? SECOND DAY OF SENATOR MCCALL’S CLOSED DOOR HEARINGS.
She shot the television.
Outside, the light blinded her.
“DROP THE WEAPON,” the booming voice shouted, even through the mufflers. She stood on the lawn and goggled, derailed.
She saw no targets, just blinding lights from all directions, even up.
This tactical group was good. She was nearly certain they’d shoot her when she unslung the Remington, but they didn’t. She was tackled from behind and stripped and kicked and roughed up, but nothing was extracurricular. There was no malice, just exceptional care and professionalism.
They stood in the way of her and her goal, but she had to respect that.
Cuffed and thrown in the back of a car. Everything emptied. Everything empty. There was nothing left. She had failed. Christie would die. She had failed.
She failed at the end, in sight of an ending, and that — not the murders or even the death of her daughter, she was terrified to realize — was the worst.
What kind of twisted weapon had she become?
She wasn’t questioned, but instead was searched again by a female officer in an empty, windowless, cinderblock room lit by flourescents. Federal, she thought, though there were no signs. The woman was a professional but wore no markings.
She was left in a room with a bolted table and two chairs, but without the requisite two-way. There was no camera. She sat there, locked in the room for a long time. Finally, the door was unlocked and a man half entered.
Tall and thin and perfectly groomed, she only saw the back of him as he leaned out the door and said something to someone outside. Amanda glanced up through heavy lidded eyes, lost.
Senator McCall looked like he was made of plastic. Carved whole from a single, flawless piece of some chemical. His eyes were grey like his hair. He was old, but in a perfect, cosmetic way. The appearance of old. TV old.
He sat at the other chair and, realizing it was bolted to the ground, found a comfortable angle.
She looked at him, bored.
“Amanda, we have a lot to share and not a lot of time,” McCall finally said, hands spread in front of him. She had heard his voice on the news. She associated it with growing nausea and unfocused fear.
“It’s okay, no one is listening. The room’s secure,” he said.
After a moment, he tried again. “I’m ex-Army. You know that? I dealt with something like this before. I was there in ’71, when they shut us down. I was with Fairfield. You know that name?”
Her eyes flashed. She looked over at him for the first time with some interest. She sat up in her chair and her back rippled with pain.
“I’m trying to get this under wraps. I stepped in early and assumed command of this gong-show, when I knew it was going to spin out of control.”
She leaned forward, her mouth hung open. She despised people who let their mouth hang open, and yet now she was one. Though she knew it, that seemed far away, unimportant.
“This is like any other op,” he said. “Things have gotten out of hand. There are too many people involved. Without your help, I’m not sure I can stop this wreck, and then—”
McCall put his hands out, and it was impossible not to put her cuffed hands into them. His hands were soft, and dry and warm. Large.
“What’s going to happen is this. You are going to be part of an occult, sex-based group of twenty-eight employees of the federal government. Some weird new-agey bullshit. That’s it. Sex and drugs and some hokey religion and a homicidal breakdown at the end. A neat little loop. Nothing more. Okay?”
McCall watched her, his eyes full of a power she didn’t recognize. “We need you, Amanda. The group needs you. More than ever.”
She met that gaze and pulled her hands away. In her mind’s eye, Christie was being shot. Stabbed. Dying in a million ways. An endless replay of things which might have happened. Dead and alive and screaming. Schrödinger’s child.
“My kid,” she said. “Someone has my kid.” Her eyes welled up, and she brought her cuffed hands to wipe the water away. The cuffs smelled like 3-in-1 oil. Cold flourescent lights sparkled through the tears.
McCall watched her for a long time, sad. The look on his face was that of a school teacher, looking at a promising pupil who somehow cannot understand the lesson.
He placed a razor blade on the table. It was new and gleaming.
“This is over when you want this to be over,” he said. “And you have my word. Either way, Christie will be unharmed.” Before she could react, he was gone.
In the empty room, she looked at the razor and tried to imagine Christie standing, alone, crying in the terminal at Ronald Reagan airport. She saw her in a cap and gown, or on her wedding day, sometime in a future without a mother. In a timeline which ran on past the red spray of the last days of her mother’s life.
She tried to center this image in her mind. And then she reached across the table.
By Dennis Detwiller, © 2013.