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 façade, 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.

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