Tuesday, February 9, 2016

The Cache - Prologue - Here There Be Dragons

He stood in the dark, looking out the window of his 15th floor office space, slowly smoking a cigarette, waiting. Looking out over the city gave him a feeling of ownership, for little that transpired in the shadows was unknown to him.

The dark was like a warm security blanket for him; he liked the dark. In fact, he felt that he did his best work in the clinging blackness, although no one he chose to deal with could easily testify to that. He checked his watch for what seemed the hundredth time, dreading the upcoming deadline. Lives would be snuffed out like candles, unneeded when the daylight comes. He personally knew some of those who would be “retired”, a civil buzzword for termination.

He drew hard on this latest smoke, the glow from the cherry highlighting the scar that ran from his chin to his upper cheek, a scar won so many years ago in a conflict so very, very far away. He didn’t think about it anymore, unless someone mentioned it. Then he would just shrug and change the subject; he wasn’t interested in discussing it.

A knock came at the door, and his aide, Martha stepped in.

She held out an envelope and said “Top priority, eyes only”. Her fragrance softly filled the room like a gentle breeze, cool and refreshing.

He stretched out his arm without looking and she placed the envelope in his hand. “I’m leaving now Miles” she said. “You should leave soon too. You don’t need to stay any longer than you have too.”

Operations were ceasing at this location, being moved elsewhere while this site was sanitized, removing all traces of their being here, like some bad cliche from a late night spy movie.

“Goodnight Martha. Drive safe” came the response from the shadowy shape of her supervisor.

“Don’t worry, I always do!”She blessed him with a smile before turning and leaving, closing the door softly behind her.

Martha had been with him for many years, 15 to be more precise. She had been there when it all went wrong, when he got the scar. Martha had pulled him unconscious from a burning car, and amid a hail of gunfire, she had dragged him to safety. She had become an indispensable part of his operations early on in her employment with him. He owed her his life.

The door closed softly behind her, leaving him in solitude once more, her scent lingering behind, delicious and spicy. Dropping the envelope on the desk, he then shook another cigarette out of his pack and tossed it on the table. Lighting the smoke, he took another deep drag, once again it showcasing his scar to the now empty room. He checked his watch and saw that it was time to make the call. For a minute he balked at the thought of setting into motion such a monstrous endeavor. But in the end, his family's safety won out and he proceeded. It's amazing what you will do when your family is threatened.

He retrieved a cell phone from his coat breast pocket and voice dialed a contact.
“Edward” he said, and the phone was silent for a moment. Then a voice answered " Yes?" to which he replied two words: “Fire Drake”. He then hung up and pulled the battery from the back, placing it in the trash. The phone was left on the desk for the sanitizers that were cleaning up the outer office. It would first have its SIM card removed and then be crushed and incinerated. Such is the fate of a burner phone.

He continued staring out the window, the cigarette now forgotten between his fingers.

"What are we doing?" he mumbled remorsefully to himself.

He continued staring out the window looking at the city. He felt an affinity for that city, like a custodian might feel for his responsibilities. He wondered who had contrived this awful scenario in which the government turned upon the nation’s populace, singling out those who believed differently.

Turning to his desk, he switched on the small lamp that rested there. He picked up the envelope and broke the seal on it. Pulling out a sheaf of paperwork, he shuffled thru it until he located the Red Lists and began scanning down the pages, looking for the names of those he might know. And there he saw it.

Phinney, Martha, 418 Stevens Blvd., Reston, VA.  – Retire.

He tossed down the papers and frantically dug his personal cell phone out of his pocket, feverishly dialing her number.

“We are sorry; this number is no longer in service. Please check the number dialed and try again.”

The Dragon had been loosed, and it was starting to devour its own.

--------------------------<<>>----------------------------

Jack Bellamy was worried. His contacts in the various shadow agencies were saying there was a high level buzz that something was about go down, but no one had specifics. He had announced this on his latest 'Menacing Shadows' pod-cast. Menacing Shadows was very popular and he had a broad audience, and lots of sponsors! This latest report had him more agitated than he had ever been before. After he had received the tips that something was up, several of his sources disappeared and more of them had clammed up, dropping all contact with him.  One had finally told him in a private face to face that he had been warned to keep his mouth shut, and he would say no more about it. As they parted, his contact looked back over his shoulder and spoke the words “Fire Drake” then quickly slipped away. Jack had wondered what he meant by those two words, but was having a difficult time getting any specifics on the topic.

Jack rented a small office space where he managed his business affairs and produced his pod-casts, preferring not to have his business dealings too intertwined with his private life. Jack was a single man, and had been so all his life. He was not an attractive man, being overweight by some 100 pounds with a large middle section hanging over his belt line. It was his sedentary lifestyle more than anything that contributed to his weight issue. He also had a large nose that looked out of place on his face and coupled with a wide mouth, created a quite homely picture. He didn't care though; he was making a good income with all the sponsors for his show and was considering building a studio at his home where he would not have to commute anymore.

His was about a twenty minute drive one way each day to reach his office, and he would rather not drive if needed. The studio would stand alone, as he wanted to maintain the separation but reduce the travel distance. He had left work and was about 10 minutes into his commute, when his cell phone began ringing and vibrating in his pocket. He had a security system at work that included an Android App that would alert him in case the system was tripped. He called 911 and reported it as he turned around and began the hurried trip back.

When he arrived he saw 2 police cruisers out in front of his building, lights flashing. As he pulled up an Officer waved him on, but sticking his head out the window he explained that he had made the call and it was his business that had sounded the alarm. The officer waved him over to park in the parking space on the other side of the cruiser which he was standing next to.

Jacks mind was racing. “What could anyone have been looking for?”

There was no money kept at his business and the cheap microphone and amplifier he used in recording his pod-casts weren’t worth the trouble. He took his laptop home with him every night so that was out. That left only his paper files that he stored in two large steel file cabinets.

The officers escorted him into his ransacked office. All of his files had been removed from the cabinets and strewn about, the cabinets themselves tipped over onto the scattered papers. His desk was tipped over and the drawers with their contents dumped in a pile next to his chair, adding to the disarray.

The first officer, a Detective asked “Is there anything of value missing?”

Jack replied “No, I never left anything of real value behind when closing up for the night.”

After filing his report with the officers, Jack took some photos for insurance purposes. The rented multipurpose printer had been left untouched, so the damages were minimal. The officers left to respond to another call, leaving Jack to clean up the mess and restore order to the room.

All the while he worked, thoughts were running through his mind; “Was this related to his last show? Did it have any connection to his missing contacts? Perhaps this is related to Fire Drake? What is Fire Drake?” and so on went the chaos in his mind until he finished putting the last file in its place. He was now several hours late getting home so he stopped and got some Chinese takeout for dinner. He was not in the mood to fix food after dealing with that mess!

The drive home was uneventful, allowing the evenings impressions to settle into place and form a mental picture of what might be transpiring. Fearing he may be on the “legendary” Pick Up list, Jack had prepared an INCH bag and re-supply caches in various locations. He was not just a voice in the Prepper and Survivalist community; he was also a card carrying Conspiracy Theorist by his own admission!

He pulled into the driveway intent on one goal: to get his INCH bag and fall back to his hideaway for a bit until he was certain it was safe to be back in his normal life. He had several pod-cast recordings which he could release remotely and by timer. That would throw off any who might be monitoring his broadcasts and give him an edge.

Jack stepped out his car and looked around, ready to dive back in and go at the slightest excuse. Not seeing any cause for alarm, he walked up the stone steps to his front door, keyed in the sequence to his security system and entered the house. He went directly to his bedroom where he kept his INCH bag in the closet. As he entered the room an arm encircled his neck in an iron grip and a hand clamped a damp cloth over his mouth and nose.

“Nite, nite asshole!” hissed a voice in his ear as he began the fall into darkness.

--------------------------<<>>----------------------------

Martha stepped out of the elevator into the parking garage where she had parked her older Chevy Blazer. She preferred the SUV over a sedan due to its ability to go off pavement and navigate snowy roads more safely in the winter. She liked to go camping with her sister’s family in the summer and kept her gear in the back under the privacy cover all year. She would occasionally do some winter camping too if work would let her. She kept it well maintained, ready to go anywhere at a moments notice.

She was worried about her boss. He was not happy about the current operation and she was concerned that he might go rogue because of it. Lost in these thoughts she was not paying close attention to the van parked on the other side of her vehicle. As she reached to unlock her door, a man stepped out from around the front of the van and confronted her. She recoiled backwards, reaching for her gun and fell into the grasp of the man who had stepped in behind her. He pinned her arms to her side and held her while the first man injected her with the contents of a syringe. “Sweet dreams darlin'!” he said as she began to go limp. "Martha you fool!" she thought to herself as the blackness embraced her, "What have you got yourself into this time..."

They loaded her unconscious body quickly into the van, looking about for any witnesses, and finding none, leaped into the van and drove slowly away into the night. The security cameras that normally would have caught her abduction had been disabled before the attack, so Martha disappeared off into the night without a clue to be found.

--------------------------<<>>----------------------------

Sitting in front of his computer, he hit the refresh key for what seemed the hundredth time. The webpage slowly refreshed but still had not changed. The pod-cast was late, which was highly unusual for the Menacing Shadows show. The same was true for last night’s Traitor Nation forum chat room. Down for maintenance the message had said. BoilingFrog was missing also. He usually had some interesting information to share with everyone in the Monday Circle of Conspiracy chat room meet up. The Net was a buzzing with all sorts of rumors.

Jack Bellamy had mentioned something evil was afoot in his last pod-cast and was about to share his information when he went silent. Everyone was waiting and the Menacing Shadows chat room was filled to the max. He had been too late to get in and now there was no more room for late comers. His pal MindWarp had emailed him asking him what he thought, but he had drawn a blank. Were the voices of dissension being silenced? That was the rumor that was racing around the Internet.

Work came early tomorrow, so with a sigh of resignation and a yawn, Wilson pushed himself away from his computer and got himself ready for bed. As he lay there his mind was a jumble of tangled thoughts, varying from work concerns to web rumors and a song whose melody was haunting him. His last thoughts before he fell asleep were of his get home bag readiness. "I really need to repack that thing." he thought as he fell into the blackness that waits behind sleep filled eyes.

Wilson, as his kids called him, was a single father who had gained sole custody of the children when their mother had left him. She was completely out of the picture as he struggled to raise them at a young age. He had been a Survivalist since age 19, when he had picked up a magazine dedicated to that subject. It had struck a chord in him, one that had been there since his childhood desires of living in a cabin in the woods, thru his teen years and all the backpacking trips and camp-outs.

He begin going out solo to practice his survival skills and soon became quite adept at the fundamentals of shelter, fire, food  and water. Friends became more like acquaintances as lifestyles diverged; he incorporating survival principles into his life, prepping before it even became a widespread activity, they pursuing the consumerist lifestyle drilled into their heads since childhood.

True, he consumed as the others did, but the normal paradigms of ‘Keeping up with the Jones-es and ‘He with the most toys, wins’ slid off his consciousness like water from a duck's feathers. He consumed what he could not produce and strove to become more independent of the Just In Time supply chain.

His children were like clones of himself, OughtSix mirroring his adult personality with his keen interest in survival topics, and Neo, more like himself when he was Neo's age. He winced at that thought, remembering some of his exploits as a young adult. He hoped Neo had more sense than he had at that time in his life.

The next few days were busy ones, and he did not get a chance to follow up on the missing internet personalities. When he did get back online, it was all bad news. He couldn’t believe what he was reading! 

Tuesday, February 2, 2016

My Backyard

Figuratively speaking. But close by.

Photo credit: Warren Hartz

A view from the bridge over the Skykomish river in Sultan Wa.