Bob had never realized how much he had been subvocalizing when he thought. His first day on the ventilator had taught him that.
“On the ventilator” — what a fun expression, thought Bob. It makes you feel as though you’re in control. You’ve got that damned ventilator just where you want him and he’d better do as you say. Well, poop. It isn’t anything like that at all! You’re not “on a ventilator” at all! It’s on you. Worse, it’s in you. And, what’s worse, I found that when I can’t mutter to myself, I can’t even think straight. And, maybe that’s a good thing because you have no right to think straight. Thinking straight means you get to a goal. But what goal? You’re going in circles because you can’t control anything. And, the only thing you want never to think about is how thick-headedly stubborn you were. And you knew! That was the worst part. You knew the pandemic was real. You knew masks and vaccines would work. You just wanted to show how brave you were. For what? You weren’t brave at all, Bobby Boy, were you? No, you were too chicken to show how horribly disappointed you were in that man. And, by the time you realized it, you just set your jaw and lowered your head and rammed it right into that brick wall called reality. And now, here you lie. Lie. Yeah.
And there was a time, Bobby Boy, there was a time when you was honest. You wouldn’t have dreamed of cheating in school. Or, football. Well, our coach would have kicked our ass if he found us cheating or even staying out past curfew! But this new coach! He’d kick our ass if we did not cheat. It’s what it’s all about. But I’m not really like that. Why did I go along with it? And, now — this! All I had to do was get vaccinated for Christ’s sake! I wouldn’t even have to tell my friends. Why the hell should I have to tell them? I could’ve just pretended I didn’t. They’d never know. Unless one of them punched me on the arm. Or asked my wife. So what? So what if they found out? It’s still better than being “on” this f***ing ventilator.
“Mr. Roberts? We’re going to have to move you to help prevent your bedsores from getting worse. Okay? You ready?”
Who knew, thought Bobby, that medical Doctors and not just dentists ask you questions when they know damned well you can’t answer! Why the hell do they do that? I guess it’s a power trip, right?
That’s right. It’s all about power. There is no good and bad, really. Isn’t that what Voldemort said? But still. Who cares? There is no good and bad, really.
Yet here I lie. Living a lie is what got me here.
“There we go, Mr. Roberts. Oh by the way, your wife and sons said to wish you a Happy Birthday. See you tomorrow.”
Yet, here I lie. Bob felt as though he were looking into a fog at night, nearly able to make out the strange shape coming toward him, but as it got closer, it remained elusive — almost shy or reclusive. He couldn’t even tell whether it was an angry bear or a very large crazed criminal. He thought, If it isn’t all about power, what else is there? Truth and Love, I suppose. That’s corny. That’s for suckers.
Now, the odd shape of the truth revealed itself, not as a vague nothingness in the fog but as clear and definite, much like a white rose in the bright summer sunlight. And there it was. Plain as day. And loudly reverberating in his own head.
“You know the truth, Bob. You and I both know the truth. The real suckers are the ones who put power above Love and Truth. They play the game for Death. So, it is of no great surprise that, as you say, ‘Yet here I lie.’”
Bobby Boy, he thought to himself, you are truly losing it. I need that nurse to bring me a pad of paper. I have to tell people. I have to tell the truth! Before it’s too late! But why would anyone believe me, even on my deathbed. The evil that men do lives after them. Isn’t that what … somebody … Marc Anthony, said? When you lie, no-one believes you even if you do tell the truth. I can’t change my vote now, can I?
The alarm rang, and people heard, and people came, and people did the usual things that people do when one of the over three million COVID patients dies.
Of course, the misery of a Bobby Boy’s death does not itself end with the death of Bobby Boy. In many cases, there will be more misery after a death than before. I imagine that to be so for Bobby Boy.
Before, his friends and relatives will likely have had hope. After, they will feel grief about Bob. They will feel angry that Bob didn’t care enough about the truth to face the truth and that he instead acted like a damned fool. And a selfish one at that. And, they will be in a spin about what to do next. Their lives have been changed forever and they have no idea yet just how to cope with that fact or even understand the magnitude — the depth and breadth and width of that massive gaping black hole of a change. And, they will feel loss of the things that they loved about Bob even if he was stupid enough to think power was better. They may not have each thought of it in precisely those same words, but they all felt that about Bob. And, they will feel fear. If this person, still in the prime of life can be struck down, what about the rest of us? Will we ever get back to normal? It’s important to understand in a clearer way than Bob ever did that his allegiance to power over truth did not just cause misery in his own life. It also caused misery in the lives of everyone who cared about him.
Form where the family had lived at the time, to Sesame Place in Pennsylvania constituted a two hour drive and plenty of traffic. But it was worth it. My kids enjoyed it. I enjoyed that my kids enjoyed it. But I also enjoyed it myself.
In particular, I enjoyed the water rides, particularly on this day because it was a typical 3-H day in the New York Greater Metropolitan Area — Hot, Hazy, and Humid. The water rides offered a nice way to cool off. I do not like getting wet when it’s cold. But when it’s hot and the sun dries me off quickly, I enjoy both the cooling and the warming back up. Beyond that, water slides provide the thrill of speed. And, for me, the thrill of speed is a more pure pleasure without the nagging sharp little chiggers of worry about someone having not sufficiently re-tightening a nut on the Ferris wheel or Roller-Coaster — a someone who has just found out they have terminal cancer, or their spouse just left them, or their favorite TV show has been cancelled. That’s a someone who is understandably quite distracted by all the little “worst case” scenarios that they have been playing out in their heads all day in the sizzling sun, perhaps even complaining to their imaginary pals about it.
No. When I think of a Water Slide, I think of Water. And water, unlike asphalt, is soft. If you fall, so what? And how can it break? It’s got no moving parts! What could be safer?
Actually, it does have one moving part. That moving part is the user, the participant, the enjoyer, the thrill-seeker. In a word, me. To be fair, I am not much of an adrenaline junky. I’m happy to have speed thrills, but I want to do that without the risk of real injury. Hence, the Water Slide: my favorite kind of ride.
Beyond that, I really like Water Slides because there is such elegance and simplicity. I am climbing the steps to the giant Water Slide and what am I wearing? A bathing suit. I have no tennis bag, no picnic bag, no bat, no ball, no safety helmet, no special shoes, no shin guards, no ignition key, no riding gloves, no spurs. I am damned near naked. I do not get into a seat, or a boat, or race car, or mount a horse (though I understand those can be wonderful for various different reasons). But this a particular thrill, though safe, is a naked thrill. I not literally naked of course. But I was as close as I could get in polite society.
The first time I used this particular Water Slide, I was sitting up. I noticed that most people did that, but some people lay flat. I considered that, but it seemed to me I wouldn’t get to see much except the sky. The way I visualized it, I would have a greater impression of speed if I sat up so that I could see the park-world that lay beyond the half-circle of yellow plastic pipe that formed our “race track.” So, off I went: ZOOM! (In the pre-COVID19 sense of the word).
It was fun! Just as much fun as I had imagined. And more. It really felt good. If you enjoy the jets of a jacuzzi, you might appreciate that, in addition to the thrill of speed, the Water Slide offers a surprising kind of gentle but vigorous water massage while you are speeding through its universe. The turns and twists and falls seem a lot like a bobsled run. But the bobsledders are getting banged and bruised and on rare occasions killed, while I was getting a water massage instead.
So being a person who likes to study things, I decided I would lay on my back for the second run. This time, I would go for speed and see whether the increased speed would make up for the less panoramic visual experience.
Whoosh! Into the pool at the end, I went. Unbelievably, it had been even more fun the second time. So, once more, I climbed up the long staircase to the top of the Water Slide. The steps were ingeniously chosen to be of cross-grated metal which kept the stairs tolerably hot and made them less prone to someone slipping and falling, possibly taking out a host of climbers behind them. Of course, the climb lasted far longer than the slide, but I didn’t mind. I used my time planning how I would go even faster this time.
When you reach the top of the Water Slide, there are two workers — one on each side of the yellow half-pipe. They hold you in place until they are sure the person below you has cleared. And then they give you a shove to start you off. This is great because that time allowed me to execute my mental check list. I straightened my legs hard, pointed my toes, and pressed the soles of my feet together as hard as I could. I stretched my arms above me, pushing the inside of my upper arms against my ears and pushing my palms together as hard as I could.
ZOOM! Off I went! And, sure enough! My plan had worked! I was going even faster than my second time down — noticeably faster. This was heaven, all right. A considerable thrill but completely safe.
So I thought.
Apparently, the engineers who designed this water park didn’t design for grown men who had a curious enough streak to see what would happen if they really thought hard about how to minimize friction.
I sizzled down the half-pipe in my slip-sliding way with no issues until the last and fastest turn. Here, my body quickly went from in the half-pipe to somewhat outside the half-pipe to half outside the half-pipe. I had been worried about the lack of view. But I had plenty of view of what my landing place would be like. Concrete and rocks about five feet below.
I had exactly zero time to react before my body began to find its way back into the confines of the half pipe. It was a close thing. And, if I had “spun out,” that afternoon would have turned out far differently than it did. It would have certainly meant a trip to the hospital. Maybe I would have been spared broken bones and just gotten a world class case of road rash. That seems unlikely. Who knows? I might have been permanently disabled or, if my head happened to hit something in the wrong way, dead.
Sometimes, we come up to that edge and we don’t even know it. And sometimes, we come to that edge because we think our way up to it. Every time we push the limit and get away with it, a little voice inside says, next time, we’ll push it a little more. Next time, we’ll push it a little more. And a little more. Sometimes, we get lucky. We get close enough to the edge to see what lies beyond and we modify our behavior. And sometimes, we get unlucky. We go over the edge. And there’s no turning back.
I still enjoy a Water Slide.
But I don’t clever my way to the edge.
I would go to the edge, and I would go beyond the edge, for a worthy enough cause. But a thrill or the pleasure of the moment — to me, that is not nearly enough cause.
477-K-435-J glanced at his comrade. “You look nervous. You doing okay?”
“I’m not nervous! Just leave me alone. I’m fine.”
“Geez. OK. Have it your way. Look, it’s no big deal. I was nervous my first time too. You’ll get used to it. Kind of. I’m 477-K-435-J. You?”
“Really? How did you know it was my first time? Oh, I’m 45-PP-45-PP, by the way. Pleased to meet you.”
“Likewise. For one thing…look, you’ve got this all twisted the wrong way. May I? I just want to straighten this out for you.”
“I … okay.”
“There we go. That’ll make it easier. Now, look. Truth is, 45-PP-45-PP, you should be nervous. Our enemy has some pretty potent weapons. You’d be an idiot not to be nervous. Poison gas is no fun.”
“Poison gas? They use poison gas?”
“Sometimes. Nitric oxide. Nasty stuff.”
“Thanks. Now, I have something else to be nervous about. It’s just … they so damned big. And, they have brains. Big brains.”
“Oh, believe me, that’s the last thing to be nervous about. Sure, they have big brains, but do they use them? That’s the question.”
“Why wouldn’t they use them? Don’t be ridiculous.”
“Yeah, I agree. Hell, we all agree. It’s one of the great mysteries of near-life. But, luckily for us, we don’t have to solve that. We just need to use the fact that they don’t use them very often to our own advantage.”
“How do you know — how do you know where to put it in?”
“It’s kind of instinctual. You’ll know. Anyway, there are lots of places. It’s not just like there’s one perfect place. We all develop favorites. Personally, I like the lungs best. It feels — it just feels right. Warm and wet. And, they really suffer, just like an enemy should. Best of all, it makes ‘em cough. That’s a free ride to the next sucker.”
234-HH-432-99 joined in. “That’s not what I like best. Sure, it’s warm and wet. But so are the mucous membranes in the mouth. The mouth is where it’s really at, if you ask me. To them, it’s quite an intimate place. That makes it all the more fun for me!”
477-K-435-J shook slightly. “Nah. Lungs. More damage. More spread.”
234-HH-432-99: “Ridiculous. Trust me, kid. There’s no greater feeling than penetrating one of those mouth cells and squirting your RNA into it. You are the boss then! That cell does what you tell it to. And what you make them do is make more of you! I love it. Whoever came up with that one…they deserve to be…to win something.”
477-K-435-J “Yeah, yeah. But no matter how much you screw over their mouth, they can still breathe. And if they can breathe, they have energy. And they can use that to send their destroyers out.
234-HH-432-99 suddenly screamed, “Hit the deck!”
Without the slightest idea what was going on, 45-PP-45-PP did as he was told. “What the hell was that?”
477-K-435-J replied, “That, kid, that is something you want to look out for. It’s a god-damned mask is what that was.”
“Huh? What’s a mask? Does that kill us too?” 45-PP-45-PP reflected again on how much danger he was in.
234-HH-432-99 answered, “No, it doesn’t kill us exactly, but most of the time, it prevents us from fulfilling our mission. Get caught up in one of those damned masks, and you won’t be screwing their mouth cells, their lung cells or any other cells. You’ll just … disintegrate … and die with no sons and no daughters to carry on your alphanumeric designation. It’s as though you were never really alive at all. Well, actually, you’re not. But you get my drift. You’ll be forgotten and nothing to show for it.”
45-PP-45-PP said, “Holy crap! How do we avoid them? A bunch of those things would ruin our whole plan.”
477-K-435-J added, “Yes, you’re right, but we’ll be fine as long as enough people don’t wear them or don’t wear them properly.”
45-PP-45-PP had the distinct feeling that his more experienced comrades were putting him on and making fun of his ignorance. “Yeah. Right. They have a way to prevent our spread and don’t use it. It may be my first time, but I’m not stupid enough to fall for that one! If you want to razz the new guy, you’ll have to think of something more clever than that.”
234-HH-432-99 said, “No, kid. We’re not putting you on. Your buddy ain’t puttin’ you on.”
45-PP-45-PP still felt he was being punked. “So you’e saying they have a weapon to keep up from doing in their lungs and doing … any of their cells … and they don’t use it? Why? That makes no sense! I don’t believe you.”
477-K-435-J said, “Look, it doesn’t matter whether you believe me or not. But we’re all in this together so why would I lie to you? No-one knows why they don’t use something that could save their life of the lives of their families. Some of their own kind have started rumors that the masks don’t work or that they infringe on their freedom.”
234-HH-432-99 piped up again. “Hell, not only that! Some of them don’t even think we exist! They think we’re just a hoax!”
45-PP-45-PP knew they were putting him on now. “Yeah, right. 1.5 million dead world-wide and 63 million sick …. And we’re a hoax? Come on. Give me a break. Just because it’s my first time doesn’t mean I’m totally naive.”
477-K-435-J shrugged, in his viral sort of way. “Look, kid, believe what you want. But trust me. Lungs. That’s where it’s at. And when… hey! Hey! Look sharp. This guys about to scream at someone, he’s surrounded by others, and none of them are wearing those damned mask. We’re in luck! Come on, troops! We’ve prepared our whole lives for this. Drill ‘em and kill ‘em! Drill ‘em and kill ‘em!”
Soon the chant filled the air. 45-PP-45-PP joined in and all his nervousness, his uncertainty, his fear melted away. “DRILL ‘EM and KILL ‘EM.” He felt inexpressible lust at the thought of raping a species whose only outstanding natural weapon was its brain — a weapon so many refused to use. He thought to himself, in his viral manner, They deserve to be drilled! They deserve to be killed! He turned to the comrade who had first befriended him and said, “477-K-435-J, I’m going for the lungs!” Then, to himself: “Warm and moist! Yum! You are mine you little slut cell! You’re going to birth 10,000 of my little babies! Whether you like it or not! You’ll see who’s a hoax!”
“Ah, so you are the one they call “The Commissar,” said the one they call “Scarface.”
“Indeed, I am. And you are?”
“Oh, no need for formalities. You can just call me ‘Comrade.’ Because, that’s what we all are, right? Comrades. Comrades-in-arms who sometimes need to sacrifice for each other. But — there I am going on about ideals when I should be focusing on the matter at hand. We understand that one of your subordinates named Dmitry Mendeleev was responsible for initiating and perfecting the “Death Cult” initiative known as “Operation Super Spreader”?”
The Commissar tilted his head and looked off to the side. Then he frowned and slowly began to nod his head. “Dmitry. Dmitry Mendeleev, you say? Yes, I do remember him. The name — you know. Memorable. He came in for an interview but didn’t cut the mustard.”
“He didn’t work here? He never worked here? Are you sure?”
“Well, yes. I’m sure. I know the names of the janitors and the folks in the mail room. To make sure they are all trustworthy. I have personally looked at and studied the personnel file of everyone who works in this facility.” The Commissar hesitated only for the briefest and most insulting moment. “Comrade.” The Commissar shrugged; added, “Of course, we have records as well. We can’t count on everyone having the same type of memory as do I, can we, Comrade? Needless to say, you and your team are welcome to look through them. But if I may be so bold, can you explain why you needed him in particular? I’m sure we have experts relevant to your current needs. And, superior to Dmitry, I might add.”
“No, no. Nothing like that. We only wanted to make sure he got the recognition he deserved.”
“Oh, well, there! You see? Now that I know why you need him, I can indeed help you. You see, it was a team effort, under my leadership of course. But a team effort.” The Commissar gave that short, snorty laugh he always gave. “It wasn’t much of a team, at the beginning. No. I had to drag them kicking and screaming into the room marked, “Subvert to a death cult.” It took some fancy footwork to get everyone on board. If you talk to my team, you’ll hear them all say it was me; that I deserve the credit. But the truth is…no. It was them. Us. All of us working together to make it happen. Imagine! A third of a country chanting for their own failure, their own downfall, their betrayal, their death. Something to see. Something to see. But I suppose — yes, I’m sure — it was exactly the team that ended up working on Super-Spreader that he was applying for. So. There you go.”
“Yes. Yes. This may all tie up so much more neatly than I would have imagined possible. Indeed. You see, the problem is that we’ve been found out.”
“‘Found out’? What do you mean? Who found what out?”
“Ah, Commissar, well, that’s the thing of it. Who found what out? What indeed? We need to change the narrative, I’m afraid. You see the Americans. Stupid, stupid, Americans. As you know, they didn’t re-elect Nasha Marionetka so … the Americans didn’t cover their trail at all. Now, the whole world knows. It only took two days! But — you understand — it’s one thing to convince Americans to kill themselves. That’s called ‘clever.’ But being found out to convince Americans to kill themselves. The world calls that ‘evil.” We can’t have that.”
“Of course, not even the Great Mother Russia can be expected not to have the occasional “Bad Apple”. We were going to pin the whole thing on a rogue kid. Someone who wanted to climb too far too fast. It’s disappointing that we have to rewrite all the copy. But, in many ways, your own sacrifice is even better for the Motherland. Spasibo.”
The Commissar frowned. “My sacrifice? What sacrifice?” He could feel sweat running down the front of his shirt. His eyes darted among the four men in his office. Three had not spoken a single word. But he could see, even beneath their suits, that any one of them could kill him with his bare hands. When he had first become an officer, he had stayed in shape. But those days were long past. He’d have to rely on his brains to get out of this one. He couldn’t fight his way out. But perhaps he could think his way out. Yet again.”
Scarface smiled. Or, at least the half of his face that could smile, smiled. “I think you see how little we must change the narrative. Instead of the young overly ambitious boy who wanted to leap to the head of things, we have instead the disgruntled old man who has started to question whether his commitment to the Homeland has been rewarded commensurate with his sacrifice.” Now, Scarface smiled again. This time, seemingly in great pain, he forced the smile to crack his entire face. “You thought you could prove your worth to your superiors by killing innocents. Which, of course, we would never tolerate. Such a callous attitude toward precious human life must be excised from the body politic.” At this, one of Scarface’s ‘assistants’ broke out in a raucous laugh. This made The Commissar jerk his head to the left and blink repeatedly. His heart was thudding so hard, he couldn’t understand the nature of the joke.
The Commissar felt his head jerk back to his right. His eyes had seen movement. Now he stared down the barrel of a .22 LR semi-automatic hand gun with a silencer. From somewhere far away, he heard a soft word.
Note to readers: Have you been wondering what happened to Dmitry? I have. You remember, Dmitry, don’t you? He was the Russian GRU officer who first came up with the idea of subverting large amounts of the the GOP into becoming a death cult. Needless to say, he initially met with a — what to call it? — a red wave of skepticism. But Dmitry had numbers and math models to back up his bold plan.
After the plan was approved by Vlad himself, the main implementation sticking point appeared to be finding anyone depraved enough to be traitor enough to kill a quarter million of their own people. It turned out, there were such people in America. Soon they began to focus the efforts on someone who was both a profound failure and who had an overblown opinion of themselves. And, when I say, “overblown”, I don’t just mean the garden variety of “overblown” wherein a dandelion insists he’s really a yellow rose. Oh, no. I mean the galactic variety of “overblown” wherein a small asteroid…a teeny asteroid imagines itself … really nothing more than a small stone floating around in space imagines itself to be of U Y Scuti size! That size of over-blown.
As we know, provided that at least occasionally we poke our heads outside the Fox News bubble, the pandemic is having its third wave in America — the biggest one yet. And, it is largely thanks to the efforts of #45 and his enablers. (For real!) And, that means, it is largely thanks to the efforts of Dmitri (fiction).
Of course, I’m not too happy about that. In truth, I also wouldn’t be happy if it were a million Russian citizens who needlessly died (or those from any other country on earth). Dmitry may or may not have had second thoughts about killing a million Americans. If he did, he didn’t share it with me. You and I would both understand that he would be greatly rewarded for his patriotic efforts on behalf of Putin’s ambitions to weaken or destroy the United States of America. So, let’s go check in on Dmitri and discover what his reward was for his innovative attack on America.
Just as the Commissar arranged, Dmitry was the last one to enter the conference room. A broad grin broke out on Dmitry’s face as he realized what was happening. The Commissar had arranged a celebration, complete with flags and bunting.
“Why today?” Muttered Dmitry and immediately realized because America was drowning in new cases — breaking 100,000/day.
The Commissar himself poured shots for everyone. Dmitry noted the brand and raised his eyebrows. This was the good stuff, he noted to himself.
Dmitry greatly appreciated the gesture. Ilya, in particular, gave him a very inviting smile. Even Olga raised her glass and mouthed the words acknowledging that he had been right.
After the toast, and the synchronous clapping, Dmitry walked up to the dais and took the mike. He beamed and bowed and gestured for silence.
“This was a team effort. And I say we toast the leader of our team, the man we affectionately call “The Commissar.” Dmitri held his glass aloft. A few other toasts were offered and the din in the room grew correspondingly. Dmitry glanced at the clock. Hours before quitting time, and most folks were already impaired. He enjoyed a shot, but he didn’t really relish being impaired. His current buzz was plenty. Too much in fact. He decided to sneak away and check to see what his web crawlers and sentiment analysis programs had turned up.
He turned suddenly. The large beefy hand of The Commissar came down heavily on his shoulder. “Hey! Congratulations again, Dmitry. Now. I need to see you in my office.”
The Commissar gestured to a chair for Dmitry and he himself walked around his desk and sat in his appropriately more comfortable version. He enjoyed the plushness. The Commissar chuckled as he recalled that line from Animal Farm, “all are equal but some are more equal than others.” He smiled at Dmitry and wordlessly arose and sauntered over to his private reserve where he kept the really good vodka. He swung around with two shot glasses and handed one to Dmitry.
“Dmitry. You should be proud. Here’s to you!” The Commissar tossed his glass back and Dmitry did the same.
“Oh, my God! That’s good! Thank you, Commissar!”
“Dmitry, It’s nothing. You have come to the attention of Putin himself! He has a special assignment for you — something he says will require a combination of discipline, mathematical brilliance, and out of the box thinking. Well, you’re it. I have no idea what the situation is, but you were asked for specifically and by name! Congratulations! Sorry, I don’t have more details, but I think you’ll like this part. It’s on the Caspian! You’re going to have your own damned dacha there! I’m more than a bit jealous, but you deserve it! Hey! Look at the time! You’ve got to get back to your apartment and pack. I’ll arrange to send on your stuff here. The way things usually work, your contact will come by and have tickets for you. I won’t even find out specifically who you’ll be working for! Your talent has been noticed. Go. And Congratulations!”
Dmitry stuttered, “Are you… ? Really? This is so … sudden. I mean, I’m not going to say I’m not flattered or protest some false modesty, but … shouldn’t I stay and take Operation SuperSpreader to its logical conclusion.”
The Commissar shrugged. “It’s not my decision. Sorry. I don’t think we have much choice here. Just go get yourself ready. And sober. Your contact will be there shortly. Sorry, I don’t have more info. It’s obviously top secret. Beyond my clearance level. We’ll be okay here. You’ve done an excellent job — a generous job of sharing your expertise. We’ll be fine. GO! I’ll let your co-workers know what’s happening.”
Dmitry frowned. He looked at the blank poker face of his boss. He glanced at the party which had not diminished in intensity during his absence. If anything, they were becoming more boisterous. OK. The Caspian! That did sound nice. Moscow was already damned cold but he knew it would become much worse. He spent the Metro ride home trying to decide what to pack. Replaying the Commissar’s comments however, he realized he had no idea even what country he’d be in or whether he’d be on the relatively warm side.
He stumbled up the steps to his third story studio. “Crap,” he muttered and he threw himself on the couch. I just need a nap before that guy — what was his name? He shook his head, trying to sober himself up. Maybe cold water. Or coffee. But where am I going? His head still spinning, Dmitry conked out.
Meanwhile, the boss they called The Commissar had gone back in to share the happy news with everyone in the section. He glanced around. People were wasted. Oh, well. He tapped the side of a glass with a caviar knife and asked for attention several times. It was times like this that having a mike was helpful. People quieted quickly.
“Hey, I just have a very short announcement to make. I received orders from high up — from very high up, that Dmitry has been transferred on an emergency basis to another location. Meanwhile, the division head says to scuttle all our records on Project SuperSpreader. If anyone asks, tell them it was my idea, and mine alone. None of you should admit to having anything to do with it. And, don’t mention Dmitry. He is such an important asset now that we want there to be no way for foreign agents to trace him or find him. The CIA may be onto us and they will think nothing of killing him or torturing him for information. So…as far as the outside world goes, he was never here.”
The Commissar prided himself on being able to read faces, even those trained in deception. People with alcohol were happy people. They were used to hearing arbitrary decisions. They were used to obedience.
“Oh, one more thing, before you get back to partying. Dmitry told me to give everyone his regards and his thanks — and his regret for not having time to say goodbye to everyone personally. I’m sorry I don’t know anything more about his promotion and assignment. Top Secret. Now, Party!”
Back in his apartment, Dmitry heard a knock or a telephone or possibly a doorbell. What was it? He had had way, way too much to drink. But, he recalled, or thought he recalled, it was only three shots. I should have a buzz, but not — how can I be this drunk. He tried to swing his legs over the edge of the couch but they didn’t move. Suddenly, he jerked his head. There was a man here. $hit! He thought, It’s my contact. I’ve got to get it together.
The man smiled genially, yawned and glanced at his watch. “Ah, you’re still here. Well, not for long. Sorry. I got here a little early. If you’re embarrassed to die in front of me, I could leave and come back.”
Dmitry just couldn’t think straight. “What? What? Caspian?”
The man tilted his head with curiosity as though wondering precisely how this one would die. “There’s no Caspian, my friend.” He chuckled a bit. “Nice idea by the way — the whole death cult thing. I would have never thought of it. Well, maybe. But I never would have thought it could work. Brilliant really. Thing is, it’s so brilliant, people like your Commissar feel it might be more appropriate if someone with a longer career deserves to get the credit. Don’t worry. It won’t be long.” He paused and then added thoughtfully, “If you’re in pain or anything, just give me a sign. I can break your neck. SNAP! Real quick. Just give me a wink.”
Dmitry cast his mind back. Who was this man? What was he saying the Commissar who gave me his special vodka wants to … an image flashed into Dmitry’s mind. The clear vodka had only been poured into one glass, not both. Only Dmitry had actually drunk the clear liquid. No wonder it tasted so good. Liquid death.
The man chuckled the deep chuckle of someone who revels in evil. “I see the truth is dawning on you, Dmitry. You’re supposed to be a genius. You should understand — in a system that puts power over truth, the people at the top are not the most able or the smartest or the most educated or the most talented. They are the cruelest and most ruthless. I hope you find that useful info in the next world.”
Dmitry realized he was going blind. He blinked several times and squinted to look into the face of this man who had come to … take the body, he supposed. The nameless man stared right back as though he were a stamp collector staring at a rare stamp for that flaw, that flaw, that fatal flaw. Dmitry realized that his had been trusting his boss.
This is part of a longer story line in four chapters. Here are links to other chapters.
Suppose in your neighborhood a certain little boy lived — a boy who was rather naughty. I don’t mean naughty as in one day the kid’s baseball rolls into your yard and smashes into the basement window and breaks it and then they all run off and you end having to pay for the new window yourself. No, not that kind of naughty. I mean more like the naughty where pet after pet in the neighborhood seemed right as rain for years on end and then met a most untimely death. Sometimes, they would look a bit as though they got hit with a car — various pieces gone, etc. Sometimes, they would simply disappear without a trace. (You’d be surprised how undetectable a cat is when it has run through a chipper along with a large amount of brush). Mostly though, they simply died from what was at the time said to be “natural causes” though pretty much everyone in the neighborhood privately thought that a cat screaming endlessly until it clawed itself to death sure didn’t seem like “natural causes.” Nor did it seem all that “natural” when Billy’s Bull Terrier ran head long into a brick wall. They are called “Bull Terriers,” I grant you, but they don’t charge things the way a bull does and bulls certainly don’t charge into brick walls. Even bulls are too smart for that.
Did I mention that the little boy was known as “Donnie Boy”?
Anyway, speaking of running into brick walls, Donnie Boy loved to play croquet at the Country Club. It gave him plenty of opportunity to practice his cheating skills and Daddy always said to take every chance to do that because those were the most important skills of all! Why just the other day, Fred had told his boys how he had ripped off someone for a million dollars!
“And you know what the best part was, Junior? The best part was that that sucker was paying big bucks for a high-falutin lawyer with a degree from HAHVAHD. And, his lawyer tells him not to hand over the cash without a signed contract and witnesses. Of course! Duh! And I look this sucker right in the eye and I say, ‘Joe, I’m an honest man. Always have been. Always will be. And, when I give you my word, there is no need for a contract. My word is my bond. My word is my contract.’”
At this point, Fred snorted and slapped himself on the thigh to emphasize how funny he thought this was. Then, he lowered his head and used a stage whisper which naturally drew Fred Junior and Donnie Boy closer. “You know who he believed? His own lawyer? Or me?”
Fred Junior knew the answer of course, but he felt uncomfortable being an unauditioned-for part in someone else’s play.
Eager Donnie Boy though supplied the line. “You!!”
“That’s right, Donnie Boy! That’s right! That fool-cake gave me the cash and then of course I denied it! Idiot!”
Many such experiences led Donnie Boy to revel in cheating at croquet (just as in everything else). He would loosen the mallets of other players. He would kick the balls when no-one was watching. His favorite though was when someone went through a wicket and hit a ball. Then, the sucker-player would start taking his extra shots and Donnie Boy would scream: “HEY! What are you doing? You already took your extra shots!”
“No, I didn’t!” Some of the other players weren’t sure. But those who had kept track told Donnie Boy he was wrong. Then, he would attack them by saying that they were in cahoots with the person with the extra shots; that everyone else was a cheater anyway! Often, the person who still had an extra shot coming would give in. But sometimes, everyone would get mad and eventually and go home. And, when that happened, they would leave the set up in the courtyard because no-one felt responsible for putting it away.
And, that’s how the trouble began.
Other folks liked to go for a walk on the lawn at night. Some were rather elderly and almost all were somewhat Martinied up. And, some avoided wearing glasses in public for reasons of pure vanity. Murphy (of “Murphy’s Law”) was not only alive and well but actually prospered as never before during the last few years; he now owned a little island chain in the South Pacific. Therefore, it should come as scant surprise that the very first night the young croquet players “forgot” to put away the set, not one, not two, but three club members tripped over an unseen wicket at various times. One sprained an ankle; two each ruined her gown. All three spilled their drink and ended up smelling as though they had had too much to drink….which was probably true, but not really the point. Being drunk was perfectly fine. Being perceived as being drunk was definitely not fine.
Needless to say, Fred Junior and Maryanne were severely punished for their (supposed) part in leaving the croquet set out. Maybe it isn’t really “needless to say” because they actually had had nothing to do with it. Donnie Boy was the only family member involved. For that matter, you could even say that it was mainly his fault because he had intentionally created the chaos that led to everyone quitting in anger. True enough, there was nothing physically preventing the other kids who were playing from taking it upon themselves to put the game safely away. But none did. All of them were punished in one way or another.
Except Donnie Boy of course. He heard about the accidents from his mother.
“Oh, Mommy, that’s awful! I’m so sorry. I’m afraid it’s all my fault!” Donnie Boy hid his face in his hands, grinning from ear to ear, while making sobbing noises.
“What do you mean, Donnie? How is it your fault?”
“I’m sorry Mommy. I just couldn’t find a way to make them put it away. I mean, when they quit their game, I knew it was dangerous. I reminded Maryanne & Junior, but they just got mad and told me to mind my own business. Junior said, ‘So what if some fat old lady falls and breaks her ankle? Who cares? I don’t care. Do you?’ So, I just shook my head. I didn’t know what to say. I started to put the set away myself but Junior said he would … he said he would ….”
Here, Donnie Boy faked sobbing again. It was several moments before he could pull himself together. He was on the verge of bursting out with laughter. At last, when he thought he could control himself, he went on, “would beat the ever-loving … the ever-loving … something I can’t say … out of me.” And, he clenched his fist like this (and now Donnie Boy clenched his teeny fist to emphasize the point).
“I’m sorry, Mommy. I’m so sorry I wasn’t braver. I should have made them listen to me!”
“That’s okay Donnie. But those two are in for it!”
Donnie Boy was still small enough to spend most of his time in the same neighborhood. Soon, no-one wanted to play croquet with him. To Donnie Boy, this seemed a horrible thing. He wanted to practice his cheating so he was losing out there, but he also was looking forward to some more old people tripping over the unnoticed wickets.
A few nights later, he was at a family dinner at the boring old people’s Country Club. Fred Senior was waxing eloquent about himself but the stories were all ones Donnie Boy had heard many times. It was early fall and the days were still warm; at least this one was. Donnie wandered over to the equipment shed. He glanced at the croquet set. It was unlocked. Maybe I can practice my shots, he thought for a moment. Nah, what’s the point? It’s a lot easier just to cheat. But no-body wants to play any more and there’s no more excuse to leave it out… Donnie’s train of thought was interrupted by the loudspeakers at the clubhouse. They were announcing awards of some kind. I should be getting one, he though to himself. So what if I never played?
Wait a minute! Thought Donnie Boy. Who says I have to play croquet to set it up?! I can just put out a few well-placed wickets and old people are sure to fall over them again.
Sure enough, that very night, three people had again fallen. This time though, one of the injuries was serious. Old Mrs. Barrett fell and broke her arm in three places as she smashed against a nearby brick wall.
Fred Senior broke the news over dessert. Everyone did a nice job of feigning concern except Donnie Boy who burst out laughing. Fred tilted his head sideways and stared at Donnie. He walked over and took the small boy’s head in his normal-sized hands and said in a hard menacing stage whisper, “Now Donnie Boy, you are going to tell me the truth. Look at me. Tell me true. Did you put those wickets out?”
“Wickets? I didn’t play croquet today! Honest!” Donnie Boy’s pants were getting a little wet.
Fred Senior ground his yellow teeth as he spoke: “That is NOT what I asked you. Did you put those wickets out today?”
Donnie yelled, “It was probably Fred and Maryanne again! I didn’t do it! And anyway, there isn’t any brick wall out by the croquet! It’s all lies! I’ll prove it.”
Donnie Boy jumped up from the table and ran out to the croquet lawn. He ran and skipped and sang, “I’m right! You’re wrong! No brick wall! None at all!” Suddenly, Donnie Boy tripped on one of the croquet wickets and smashed his head into the nearby brick wall. “ARGH!” he began to scream. “Why didn’t you pick them up?! I thought you’d pick them up! What’s wrong with you people?”
Mommy nearly fainted when she saw how much blood was trickling down by Donnie’s ear. “Oh, Donnie, Donnie. We have to take you to the Doctor’s.”
“Mommy! Mommy! Why didn’t they pick up my wickets? Why did they leave them there?”
“So sorry, baby. I guess they were busy calling an ambulance and everything for Old Mrs. Barrett. How’s your head? Try to stay awake. Daddy called an ambulance. What do you mean by ‘my wickets’ Donnie? Why do you say ‘my wickets’?”
“I didn’t say that, Mommy. You must be hearing things.”
“Donnie, the ambulance is here. They’re going to X-ray your head and make sure everything’s OK. You’re Mommy’s little hero now, Donnie. Be brave.”
She shook her head and took the hands of her other two kids and the went back inside to gather up their things. She felt she had to sit for a moment to collect her thoughts though and she toyed with her cake with her fork. The chocolate smelled good, but she had lost her appetite. She looked over at Fred Junior who was slowly shaking his head.
“What’s wrong, Honey? Are you also worried about our little hero?”
Junior snorted. “Hero? How is he a hero? First he doesn’t put away a croquet set and people trip and fall. Then, he blames it on us. Then, he intentionally puts wickets out so people will fall and then he lies about their not being a brick wall — which anyone can see! There’s always been a brick wall along — actually along two sides of the croquet pitch. And, then, he trips over one of his own wickets and smacks his head! How is that being a hero? That’s not what the word means, Mom. Not even close.”
Other purely fictional tales about a child sociopath.
(A series of tales that features ethical, empathic, & effective leadership in times of crisis and uncertainty. Our tale begins as the leader of the Veritas seeks an eventual successor so she devises a series of seven trials that mainly test empathy.)