Sunday, June 20, 2004

The Boar’s Head

We watched for the cab in Murray’s front room, peering from behind his drapes until it pulled up to the corner, then scurrying down his dark stairs, across the sidewalk and into the back seat before the driver could guess where we came from. On the drive over Murray was like a kid on his first plane ride, gawking out the window at the world around him as if he were gazing at corn fields 30,000 feet below him. He did a quiet monologue about the changes he saw. “They closed the hardware store…ah, no wonder a Home Depot, how’d they fit that there, weren’t there buldings there…where’s the coffee shop, I loved those guys, queer as three dollar bills, but they made a mean espresso…Death by Starbucks…this city man, it used to be real…what’s the point…I told you, what’s the point? I can see all this on TV. It’s the same everywhere. They’re even doing it here. Gap, Old Navy…they’re commercializing individualism, just pick what kind of unique person you want to be or you can afford to be…”
We were dropped off and walked into the Boar’s Head, which must have seemed a welcome antidote to Murray’s epidemic of uniformity. Quiet, dark, small, and surviving still, an anachronism amidst all the chain stores surrounding it. The hostess showed us to a booth in the back and we ordered cocktails.
“No Bud Light,” I told Murray. “Tonight try something different. Get a martini.”
“Why not?” he laughed, clearly enjoying his little adventure now that he felt he was in a safe place.

Tuesday, June 15, 2004

Murray

Murray was like no one I’d met before. In general appearance and attitude he resembled any number of homeless freaks I’d encountered - paranoid, defensive, prone to tirade, completely devoid of personal hygiene – yet oddly at peace with himself while at work. He rolled his ample frame in his Aeron chair from computer to printer with the confidence and aplomb of any ad agency art director. Give him a good scrub, a Banana Republic wardrobe (and a brainwashing), and you could have a contributing member of society. A star, actually. He was really good at what he did. Unfortunately, what he did was completely illegal. He wouldn’t have it any other way.
“Man,” he said after holding my new driver’s license up to the light, “nobody can do what I do. There is no one on this whole fucking continent – on this goddamned spinning globe – who can make people like me.”
Murray was feeling good about himself. It was hard to disagree. After spending a few hours with the guy, watching him work and learning his story, I find it increasingly difficult to question his confidence. This is not to say there wasn’t a lot to question. The man was one giant question.
“No one knows, man. There’s no one left who knows,” he said after I asked him how he got into this kind of work. He cracked another beer, smiled a staged smile, raised his eyebrows and whispered cryptically, “I’m a reflection of an image seen through a mist.”
“But, why?”
“Why? The question shouldn’t be ‘why,’ but ‘why not?’ I wonder why more people don’t check out. Look at the way this world works, man. It’s a scam. Everywhere everybody is scamming everybody else. It’s one pyramid scheme after another. To win you have to suck up one side and hammer down the other. I didn’t want to play that game.”
“But, what about…”
“Family,” he offered in a mockingly sweet singsong. “That’s the carrot to their stick, but it’s a brutal stick to my back and none too satisfying carrot for my taste.”
I let that sink in for a bit, then said, “A rather cynical view,” quietly as I, too, drank.
“I always thought it was rather romantic, to tell the truth. My big fear in life was that I’d become too much the sentimentalist.”
“You’re joking.”
“No. Look, I do what no one else can do. If I was working in some office somewhere they’d tell me what they wanted and I’d have to bend my skills to their wants. They would own me, own my work, dictate what I produced. And for what? I get to spend 10, 12, 14 hours a day working, thinking, breathing their idea of what my life should be so I can then go home and worry about whether or not I’m up to snuff, whether they will one day decide they don’t need me anymore. And, I’m supposed to be comforted and consoled in all this because it allows me to have a woman and a roof over my head and the Mort-Gauge that comes with it. Those are the modern day shackles, man, and they don’t fit me.”
“That’s a rather extreme, view, don’t you think, Murray?”
“Perhaps. I’m not saying I recommend it for everyone. At a certain point you just have to ask yourself what you can put up with and still salvage what’s true in yourself. Look at Gauguin?”
“Huh?” was all I could muster at that quick transition.
“The guy up and abandoned his family at 43, and for what? For art, that’s what. And not art like to paint pretty pictures, I’m talking about digging deep into a soul to find what’s nowhere else. He was willing to walk away from everything because he wasn’t going to continue not listening to that thing that kept telling him there was something else, that there was another thing that only he could know and if he wasn’t the one willing to do whatever it took to know it then no one would ever catch a glimpse of that thing.”
“Didn’t Gauguin die a drug addict,” I asked reaching back in my brain to old Art History notes.
“Hey, man, we all have our vices,” he said, stood, finished his beer with a flourish, and asked, “Ready for another?”
I looked at him and laughed. He was clearly enjoying himself. Indulging in a bit of rambling rhetoric for effect. “Sure. Why not?” I replied.
“That’s the spirit! Why the fuck not!?”
I followed him back into his catastrophe of a kitchen. “So, tell me, Murray, is there an abandoned family somewhere, wondering when their beloved will return.”
“No, man, I never got that far. Unlike you.”
That cut to the quick, and I guess I let it show. Murray, who must have noticed my hurt expression, was quick to backpeddle.
“I mean, I was never the marrying kind. I never had much luck with the ladies to begin with.”
The reality of my situation could disappear for an hour maybe two, but it always lurked there beneath the surface. I had done a tremendously stupid thing and put insurmountable barriers between myself and my family. And, let’s face it, I’m no Paul Gauguin. I don’t know what I am.
“Right,” I said, starting to think about what Murray had done, what he must do a lot. I mean this guy had just dug around in my past, poked around the present and found a new name, place and history for me. He created the new me, as such he was the link. He was a great vulnerability for me. Not only did he know all about me (he clearly knew I had run away from my wife and kid) he held the key to who I was now and how they could find me. Suddenly, I found this terribly disturbing. Who the hell was this Murray and how could I trust him.
“Hey,” I said, “what’s your role in all this?”
“You mean what’s to keep me from ratting you out?”
“Well, I wasn’t going to put it so bluntly, but yeah. You know an awful lot about me, but I don’t know much about you.”
“Listen, you could walk out of here right now and tell a cop what I’ve got up here and I’d be toast in ten minutes. But you won’t, because then you’d be toast, too.”
“And, if you were to make a phone call and report…” I pulled my new driver’s license out of my pocket and read the name, “then I could just send them right back here to discover those people-making machines of yours.”
Murray just raised his can and grinned grimly.
“Honor among thieves.”
“Yes,” he said, “there’s that. And, then there’s Jake.”
“Yes…there is Jake,” I said. “So, what do you know about Jake?”
“I know some things…”
“But you’re not willing to tell them to me.”
“I don’t know how much Jake would want me to tell you,” he said. “Right now, only I know who I am. There’s no one else who truly knows where I came from and holds all the strings that connect what I am now back to where I came from. Jake is in a different position. He has different roles to play. He has to be different people to different constituencies and at any minute those world’s can collide. He’s in a tremendously precarious spot. I can’t compromise any of that by spilling a few tidbits to you, who, let’s face it, don’t have much keeping you from a long cold stretch. And, my experience tells me folks facing a long cold stretch will do or say just about anything to avoid it. No offense.”
“None taken.” We drank a bit more than I asked, “So, what’s your story then?”
He just laughed, “I am what I am.”
“Like Popeye.”
“Yeah, I’m a Bizarro Popeye.”
“Swilling cans of Bud Light instead of spinach.”
“With a bulging belly instead of forearms.”
I looked out the window into the darkening space between his apartment and the one next door. It was approaching dinner time. “What do you say we go out and get something to eat?”
“What, outside?” he fairly gasped.
“Yeah, you know, like at a restaurant.”
“I don’t think that would be a good idea at all.”
“Come on, when was the last time you sat down and had a decent meal in public?”
“Honestly?”
“No, lie to me.”
“2001.”
“You’re joking. Are you telling me you haven’t eaten in a restaurant in three years.”
“Man, I haven’t left this apartment in three years.”
“Jesus Christ!”
“It’s not as bad as it sounds,” he said.
“It sounds pretty bad, Murray.”
“I deal with the world on my own terms.”
“That’s one way of looking at it,” I told him, “but there are those that might say you aren’t dealing with the world at all.”
“Pessimists. I have everything I need right here. Look, let’s just order in. We can have Indian, Chinese…Sushi…” he pulled a handful of paper menus out of a drawer and offered them to me.
“No way. We’re going to go out.”
“I don’t think so.”
“Come on, Murray, after three years you deserve a night out.”
“My work is it’s own reward.”
“A steak. A great big juicy steak. You can’t get a steak like this delivered.”
“Dine One One, man, I can get anything.”
“Listen it’s small place in Cow Hollow, we’ll take a cab. There’s no way anyone will recognize you.” I didn’t think I would convince him, but to my surprise there was a glimmer of possibility showing in his eyes. I played my trump card. “Why not, Murray? Why the fuck not?!” And with that the dice were rolled.
“What the hell. I’m not a fucking prisoner. I can choose to go out if I want to.”
“Damn right,” I concurred. “Now where’s your phone, let’s get a cab over here.”
“Oh no, no,” he said, “Don’t give them my address…”

Sunday, June 13, 2004

We Were Set Up

“It was a set up from the very beginning,” Jake said when I finally reached him. I spent the better part of that day finding a phone, getting change, listening to an incessant ringing, until finally on my third try, Jake answered the phone.
“Billy,” he said, “you have to get out of the country. Go to Canada, Mexico, anywhere. They’ve already got three of us and you and I are critical. If they can get one of us to talk their scheme will work. Who knows, they may have enough already.”
“What the hell are you talking about?”
“This whole plan, the entire operation, was a pretense, a fa├žade, we were entrapped, recruited to set up a terrorist cell, specifically so they could arrest us and prove there was a domestic terrorist cell.”
“That’s crazy,” was my first response, but as Jake went on and as I spent the next few days thinking about it, the plot made perfect sense. This crazy administration and the lunatic right in this country are hell bent on pursuing a course of military domination. The only way they can keep up the outrageous funding for amoral preemptive warfare is to create an environment of fear, to make people believe there is an enemy, not just abroad, but right here in their own backyard. Absent any real threat, they needed to invent one, and we were just the kind of dumb sapsuckers they needed to make that lunacy a reality.
Jake gave me another phone number and a Hotmail address, and said to try him again in three days. Those three days were a blur, a void, I look back now and wonder what I did, how I survived, recollecting endless hours of simply staring blankly at the sky, across the water, at the East Bay hills; wandering, avoiding people, avoiding the cold, and the cold truth of where I was and what I’d done, and what I was going to do.
When I got him on the phone again, Jake was changed, he sounded invigorated. This was a man who had been an assistant, Max’s lieutenant, you could say, and who had been cheated and deceived more than anyone. I wouldn’t have faulted him if he said he was just going to duck and run himself, but he didn’t. He went off on a tirade that, while I can’t claim to put in quotes and recall word for word, went something like this:
There’s something terribly wrong with this country, something grotesquely out of whack. Every day there are new atrocities abroad and shocking policies implemented at home only exacerbate the problems. We are divided. There are two Americas, it’s plain that one side won’t listen to the other, and when they are talking to themselves they’re merely engaging in a self-amusing and self-abusing circle-jerk – both left and right. So, I say if there are going to be two Americas divided in spirit, we might as well make two Americas divided in geography. This One World SuperPower crap won’t hold water if there’s a division at home.
Then he gave an example from nature, Shasta Daisies, of all things. When the plant has grown and matured it reaches a natural time to decline, and it begins dying from the core. The best way to sustain the plant is to divide it and replant. This is what I recommend we do with America. The ideals upon which this country was founded have been subverted, they’ve been wound around in the dirt and are strangling the lifeblood of the nation, as long as we remain bound like this we’ll never bloom, we’ll survive as a fading brown shadow of what we once were, but we’ll never bloom again. Trimming and pruning and fertilizing will not help anymore, we need drastic measures to save this organism before it dies of its own weight.
To be fair, I was ready to hear this sort of thing. I had nowhere else to turn, and was ready to sign up for anything, strap a bomb to my chest and walk me up to 1600 Pennsylvania Ave. I asked him what he wanted me to do.
Just lay low, he said. There are a lot of powerful people that have been implicated and now have their backs against the wall, Max and Bob may have won this battle, but in winning they may have started something they never could have foreseen. I’ve got to talk to some people and figure out our next steps. “Where are you?” he asked me.
I almost blurted out my location and then a pang of paranoia burst in my belly as I quickly analyzed what I really knew about Jake. “How can I trust you?” I replied. To which he just laughed and said, “Now, you’re starting to think. Trust but verify. Give me an idea, a region, wait, let me guess…Bay Area.”
“How’d you…”
“It’s logical, most people when under stress return to what they know. Listen, take down this number and then call me tomorrow, we need to get you out of there.” And, he gave me another different cell phone number. Before he hung up, though, I couldn’t help asking, “Jake, why me, why are you spending time trying to help me?”
“’Thinking we’re great
And working for good
Carries more weight
Than it probably should’”
He recited an old rhyme of mine. “We need you. You’ve got a way with words and you can connect our people with other people.” I wasn’t sure I believed him, but I wanted to and I wasn’t in a position to do much of anything else.
“I’ll call you tomorrow,” I said and hung up the pay phone. The booth reeked of urine, I reeked of sweat and dirt and me. I went to McDonalds to pee and then walked around looking for a place to spend another night.
The next day, Jake gave me the address of a guy named Murray that lived in the Haight. “Don’t write it down, just go there, he’s expecting you.”
“When? What time is he expecting me.”
Jake kind of scoffed again, “Don’t worry, whenever you get there, he’ll be there.”
When I met Murray’s I understood Jake’s amusement. He looked like he hadn’t left his apartment in years. The floors were piled high with old newspapers, magazines, mail, leaflets, books, written material towered in precarious piles lining the walls of his stifling second story apartment.
“Yes?” He asked suspiciously through the intercom, when I buzzed his apartment.
“Is this Murray?”
“Yes, who are you?”
“I was told to meet you.”
“I’ll be right down,” After a minute I heard him shuffling downstairs, his slippers appeared out of the darkness first and then a pasty, bewhiskered face peered at me through the metal grate blocking a small dim foyer at the bottom of an internal staircase. He looked past me and around on the street to see if anyone was watching or walking by.
“Billy?” he whispered.
“Yes,” I answered haltingly.
“Good,” he said and almost smiled, “Come on in.” He opened the gate and pulled my sleeve, glancing around behind me one more time before shutting it behind us. He hurried me upstairs and bolted the door to his apartment. He checked the street below from the window at the front of the flat, peaking from behind dusty drapes. “Do you want a drink, beer?” It was 10:00 in the morning.
“Umm, OK, sure.”
We walked into his small kitchen and he opened a refrigerator that was filled almost to capacity with nothing but cans of Bud Light. He motioned for me to sit down at a creaky wooden table, and we looked at each other while taking our first sips of beer. He drank with relish and let out a resounding “Ahh…” before saying, “So, we need to get you some new ID.”
By 2:30, after a morning’s work in Murray’s oddly equipped office and a lunch of Bud Light and North Beach Pizza, I was Billy Shakes no more.

Thursday, June 10, 2004

Concrete is Uncomfortable

This must certainly come as a surprise to no one, but spending the night outside in a city is no fun. It’s not just the expected things like sitting on cold concrete and being exposed to the elements; it’s also the nuisance of wanting water or a place to pee. We grow used to the little conveniences and when they’re gone life becomes a little less fun. Let’s forget for a moment my emotional state at this time, which, by any measure, was at an all time low, and talk about the physical strain of life on the street. That first night was an aberration, for one, I thought it was going to be the only one. I never contemplated spending as much time “homeless” as I have in the last six months. As such, I figured I just had to make it until dawn, and then I’d figure something out, call someone and find shelter with an old friend for awhile, something, anything would occur to me as a solution to the mess I’d gotten myself into. I’d also had a decent amount of sleep on the bus, so I wasn’t as in need of a full night’s sleep. Night after night though your body gradually wears down, one poor night leads to a day seeking a place to sleep, and then another miserable night, and before you know it everything, all reality drifts into fog, the days blend into each other, the nights are woefully long dark hours of fear, hunger and uncertainty.
There’s no place to get clean. And, I was surprised at how quickly I got dirty. Even after a redeye flight it’s nice to take a shower or at least splash water on your face and change your shirt. Now imagine that same feeling after a 24 hour bus ride, and then instead of a few hours in a room at the Marriott, a night on the street. My hair was greasy, my clothes (I still had my running shoes at that point) started to smell and itch, a few days growth covered my face, and I started to discern my own body’s odor. That ever-present odor grows unnoticeable after three or four days. You may accidentally catch a whiff of yourself on occasion, shocked by an offensive smell like someone else’s fart, and then realize it’s really you. It’s more than disheartening, it’s humiliating. I became one of them. Almost overnight.
In a way the filth acts as a shield. The normal people ignore you (think about how often you looked closely at a bum on the street), and the others, the rest of the ignored, warily acknowledge you. You’re one of them, but you’re not one of them. They note someone else has joined them. If I were clean I’d be a target. That old coat I picked up in Sacramento, the growing layer of grime and the increasingly grizzled appearance acted as a badge, a pass into their world. A bit more tidy and the more than two hundred dollars I still had in my pocket would have glistened like a pearl in a pond.
Sitting here now, faced with the same internal angst (it does not diminish with time, the utter stupidity of what I did) yet absent the physical discomfort I can wonder how I was so lost, I can imagine I should have done something else, that I could have been capable of doing something else. But, the truth is, the morning after that cold, frightening night, I simply ran and hid. The sky grew lighter and real people started walking the streets, and I just didn’t want to be seen. I walked down Mission Street to the Bay and then just followed the water, under the bridge, past the ballpark, down Third Street, the sun now up over the East Bay hills. I found a boarded up warehouse down off Third Street, slipped around back to the deserted loading dock and curled up on some old cardboard to try to get some sleep.
But just as I was about to drift off, or rather after I’d had a few fitful moments of sleep, as if still in a dream I remembered Jake and the phone number. No matter how long I shifted around trying to push it out of my mind, the thought of getting some answer any answer to what went wrong prevented me from peaceful slumber. So, I dragged my exhausted butt off that uncomfortable concrete and went in search of a pay phone.

Wednesday, June 9, 2004

Welcome to Frisco

I didn’t waste any time getting out of that apartment, or out of Seattle for that matter. I headed straight for the bus station (with a short stop at the ATM. I didn’t think it would hurt me any to let them know I was in Seattle and I wanted to have as much cash on hand as I could. I’m sure, Soo, that you didn’t begrudge me those 300 dollars). The next bus south didn’t leave for a few hours, so I just killed time nervously pacing the neighborhood around the bus station (not knowing I would come to know these regions well across the country. With few regional variations these places are remarkably similar in residents, businesses and their pervasive defeated mood is offset only slightly by the hope inherent in travel).
It would be very hard for me to describe my mood then. Now, as I sit here in relative comfort (I won’t yet say where), I am still overcome with grief, the pain of separation from wife and child does not go away. And, add to that pain the realization that this division was all my fault, that it was the result of my stupid readiness to believe a pack of lies. Well, I think you can envision a distraught, nervous, agitated man treading the streets around the Seattle bus station. I was certain the cops would roll up at any minute to drag me away, and frankly, at that point, I wouldn’t have cared. I was beyond caring. The plan to get on a bus and go to San Francisco was hardly a plan at all. It was simply the first thing I could think of. I had no idea what I was going to do when I got there, but then I had no idea what I had been doing so it made about as much sense as anything else.
One thing the bus ride did give me was time to ponder. And rest. 24 hours on a bus offers very little in the way of entertainment. I had no reading material, not that I would have been able to keep my mind on it; and I certainly didn’t want to engage any of my fellow passengers in conversation. One dark road. After Seattle and Portland, that’s about all Interstate 5 is, one long dark road. I stared blankly into the night until my eyes would not stay open. My body gave out. Considering the strain I’d put myself under for the past weeks and those crazy last hours, it was no wonder. I slept hard and wasn’t roused until the squawk of a police radio sounded in my ear. Unsure whether this was my paranoid dream or unfortunate reality I quickly shook myself awake to see California Highway Patrol cars, lights blazing pulled in front of the bus. Two officers were walking up and down the bus aisle, looking at faces. I turned out the window and watched two other officers searching through the luggage compartment, one held a German shepherd on a leash.
“Drugs,” said a voice in my ear. The man sitting behind me, while not what I’d consider a reliable source was at least telling me something I wanted to hear. They weren’t searching for a faux terrorist on the run. It was only the war on drugs these cops were fighting. “They do this every time,” he went on, “People are bringing drugs in from Canada.”
“What, pot?” I asked him.
“No, no,” he laughed, “there’s more pot around here than you can shake a stick at. They actually take the pot to Canada and trade it for prescription drugs.”
“Huh.”
“Yeah, these guys are doing the work of the pharmaceutical companies.”
I must have looked very skeptical because he went on to explain how his friend’s brother-in-law was a ChiP officer and they’ve been working with the Mounties to stop this ring. People can smoke pot in Canada but it’s expensive, there’s tons of weed here but it’s mostly illegal. Canada has socialized medicine so there’s a slew of prescription drugs they can get cheap and sell to Americans who usually have to pay through the nose. The whole operation sounded far too complex to actually work, but he told me how his friend and this brother-in-law were sitting around having a couple of beers and the cop told him the whole story. The guy (and the entire Yreka CHP station for that matter) was none too happy to be enlisted in this sort of work. Pulling over buses and rummaging through luggage in the middle of the night is not a lot of fun. The officers had been complaining, but the word they got back came directly from a representative in Congress, just shut up and do this. My neighbor on the bus was convinced the Rep was on the take from US pharmaceutical companies, that he was on the committee doing this and that about health care and big pharma was a big contributor to his campaign and blah blah blah. People on a bus will talk your ear off if you let them. I tried to change the subject. His mom lives in Seattle, but she’s been sick. He takes the bus from Red Bluff up to see her a couple of times a month. Talk of a mother’s cancer was even less welcome, but easier to respond to. A few ‘I’m so sorry to hear that’ and eventually he stopped talking.
After that I couldn’t fall back to sleep. The eastern sky was slowly going from black to gray to blue and I just watched. We switched buses in Sacramento, I picked an old coat out of the lost and found. By early evening I was back in San Francisco. The streets around the Greyhound terminal in San Francisco are filthier than those in Seattle (and Sacramento, and Tucson, and St. Louis, and Memphis, and just about everywhere else), the stench of urine, the quietly menacing street population, and the big trash serving as shelters all contribute to a general medieval quality, as if I’d walked onto the set of Excalibur. Street urchins clamoring in the darkness, peaking from behind torn blankets to eye the newcomer.
There were dozens of people I could call in the city. None of them would understand. I couldn’t quite bring myself to do it. And there it was, the beginning of my first night on the streets. As I pulled the collar of my old found coat up around my ears and prepared to find a place for the night, a voice came from the darkness. Apparently someone had been watching my movements from the door of the Greyhound station. “Welcome to Frisco,” was all he said. Welcome to Frisco, indeed.

Friday, June 4, 2004

Billy Shakes Writes Again

The following was emailed to Soo about six months after Billy disappeared, and she has entrusted it to me, asking that I let as many people as possible know what’s been going on.


Billy Shakes Writes Again

So, yeah, I’m not exactly sure how yet, but things obviously got totally fucked up. I’ve been lost for the last few months, literally at a loss, wandering the streets and trying to stay alive. Staying in Seattle wasn’t really an option. I couldn’t contact you, Soo, I didn’t know what to do.
There I go again.
No More, there will be no more of that rhyming nonsense.
Let me just tell you what happened, what’s been happening to me, what I’ve been doing for the last, I don’t know how many months. What day is it? Oh, it has been such a long time, it has been such a very long time since I got off that ferry in Seattle. I was exhilarated then, I was darn near ecstatic. It was happening, it was the beginning of a new history, it was the start of an amazing change that would transform our country and make the world a safer place. And, as it turned out, it was a hoax. I’d been lied to and cheated out of my life, my wife, my son – everything was gone in an instant, and I had nowhere to go.
Well, almost nowhere. I went to the address in the international district. I ran, I quite literally and figuratively ran to that address, my feet barely touching the ground, my heart racing, my mind abuzz with ideas and visions. What a fool, what a complete and absolute fool I’ve been. I was expecting to be welcomed into that apartment as a conquering hero, but when I got there, sweating, out of breath and grinning giddily as a schoolgirl, the two of them just looked at me in amazement and disbelief. “You,” one of them said, “You’re here.” Note the lack of exclamation points. I thought they were shocked that I had actually done it. I’m not sure who had briefed them or what they expected to happen, but they certainly didn’t have the same set of expectations as me.
“Is it on the news?” I asked them, still thinking this was going to explode into a flurry of sirens and news helicopters, and that it would all be covered OJ-style on television. In answer, the two of them just looked at each other.
“What?” I asked, “What’s been happening?” The general feeling I had was that these guys were looking at a suicide bomber, after the bombing. Slowly, those two began to realize what had happened. The truth of the matter was that they had been set up, too. There was nothing on the news and there never would be. The whole scheme was a sham, a ruse to get suckers like me and those two clowns to go through the motions of terrorism so we could be picked up and held out as proof that this country needs to be afraid. We were the enemy within, an artificial Fifth Column, recruited, trained and exploited by who knows who. Max?
Yes, Max. Or, maybe Jake.
So, all this is going through my head and I figured I need to get in touch with them, one of them, and find out what’s going on, what happened. I had no way of getting in touch with Max, but Jake had given me a number to call. I quickly scanned the apartment for a phone and dialed Jake.
“Billy,” he said when he heard my frantic voice, “Where are you? No, don’t tell me. Just run, get away from wherever you are, go somewhere we don’t know about. Don’t go home. Don’t even call your home, they’ll be there in no time.” I heard sirens then, and I wondered if I had heard them from the streets outside or if I was hearing them from the other end of the line. In the time it took to wonder this I realized it was both, they were sirens around me at that international district apartment and there were sirens wherever Jake was.
“How will I reach you again,” I asked Jake.
“You probably won’t, but remember this number and try me in a couple of days.” At which point he gave me a number and hung up.