Monday, December 12, 2016

Scholam Frequentare

     Standing in the Observation Tower listening to Major Derrick Peters’ monotone lecture on the importance of proper documentation was enough to make Tech Sergeant Rydel question his will to live, but more importantly his loyalties. Since Major Peters’ father happened to be the General of the Southern Battalion—renown master of the fine arts of diplomacy and deception—it had seemed like a good idea to ingratiate himself. But, every good idea comes with at least one moment of doubt, and in the weeks since the prisoner’s disappearance Rydel had found the doubtful moments were adding up at an abnormal rate. Whatever feud existed between the major and the commander had only been exasperated by the pothole’s disappearance, the recovery drone’s bird strike, and the commander’s psych-eval (meant to be a private affair, which naturally meant that the entirety of Camp Polkner knew). Rydel stared out the western window at the snow-capped, rolling blue and purple Iphigenia Mountain Range. Somewhere in those hills was the escaped prisoner. For the umpteenth time since the disappearance, Rydel longed to be anywhere but Camp Polkner. The hair on the back of his neck came to attention seconds before a private barged into the room bellowing, “ATTENTION ON DECK!” Without thinking, Rydel and the rest of the soldiers popped to and swung toward the door where Commander Randle Dante, Sr. entered.
     “Thank you, private,” Commander Dante said, before ordering, “clear the room.” As the soldiers filed out, the commander stopped Rydel with a hand, “not you. And, Major, not you either.”
     Rydel and Peters quizzically made eye contact, neither speaking. Both turned from the door and the trickling soldiers to take opposite sides of the room. Peters paced the four foot area he’d chosen to wait in, while Rydel resumed his reverie out the western window. When the Observation Tower was empty, save the three men, Commander Dante closed and locked the door. The distinct click caused Rydel and Peters to spin toward Dante; Rydel with confusion and Peters with anger.
     “What are you doing?” Peters’ voice was no longer the monotone droning, but rather a high pitched squeak.
     In three steps the commander crossed the room to the major, whom he promptly bitch-slapped in the mouth. “Do not question me, you insubordinate twat,” Dante ordered as Peters held his bleeding mouth with one hand while maniacally clinching the other. Ignoring the fire in Peters’ eyes, Dante stabbed his forefinger into the man’s chest, “whatever little games you’re playing at are over.” Fortunately, Dante had always made it his business to obtain actionable dirt on those officers (and politicians) most likely to cause him problems. As such, he’d recently collected enough intel on the Peters family to feel confident that though the apple rarely falls far from the tree, this particular apple had come from a wholly different tree. Major Derrick Peters, the unloved bastard son of General Benjamin Peters’ and wife Margret, was conceived and begotten during one of the general’s deployments. “I’ve spoken with your father. I was kind enough to inform him of the gravity of your situation. He wasn’t pleased.” Dante withheld the shit-eating grin that threatened to form on his lips, a lie, of course. General Peters would never have taken his call. “As you know, no one is sent to Camp Polkner because of their professional merit.” Turning to Rydel, the commander said, “no one. Isn’t that right, sergeant?”
     Having shrunken as far back from the center of the confrontation as he could get, Rydel was shocked to hear himself addressed. “Uh? Uh, yes, Commander.”
     “Rydel,” Commander Dante asked, “did you know the major was such a fuck up running the 69th that his own father had him banished to the desert? That, consequently, he was given an unearned promotion and handed to me in hopes that I might make an officer out of him. And that, should he fail to elucidate the true meaning of ‘last chance,’ I’m authorized by my position as Commander of Camp Polkner—supported by Presidential decree—to drop his ignorant ass off in that same desert?”
     “I-uh, I-uh…” Tech Sergeant Rydel stuttered.
     “It’s okay, Sergeant,” Commander Dante said. “He wouldn’t have told you, if he’d known.”
     The shock and horror of the commander’s words had not fallen on the ears of an ignorant man. Major Peters’ freshly split lip dripped, while he weaved, back-and-forth, the epitome of shock with bulging eyes and agape jaw. After a moment, he recovered enough sense to glare at the commander with the sudden desperate realization that he’d played poker against a card shark. “You wouldn’t dare!”

     Outside of Chang’s Bazaar, Clara Darin looked both ways before crossing the empty street headed for a series of posters plastered to the security gate in front of the flower shop’s giant bay windows. Some overachiever had put up 11 of the exact same posters, though it was obviously a useful tactic as she’d found herself drawn to the spread of brilliant fireworks depicted in sparkling whites, reds, greens, and blues. Merced Centennial Celebrations Committee and The Annual Festival of Lights present the Power Collective Centennial, and the 120th Anniversary of Tesla Day, she read the headline and shook her head, doesn’t matter where you go. Arbitrary festivities to keep the populace sedate.
     While Clara took in the row of posters, the cashier inside Chang’s tapped a button on his watch, and then said, “call Mom.”
     An automated female replied, “calling,” and then in the cashier’s voice repeated, “Mom.”
     After a moment’s silence, a tired woman answered, “Kate Seagrass is unable to take your call.” Kate’s voice was replaced with the dulcet computer’s, “ Say, ‘message,’ to leave a message. Say, ‘page,’ to have her paged during the next cycle. Say, ‘emergency,’ to enter the appropriate information to initialize call override.”
     “Emergency,” he said.
     “Describe the emergency.”
     He huffed, “stranger danger.”
     “What is your name?”
     “Voice print matched to Gabriel Seagrass. Confirm identity.”
     “You know who the fuck I am!” he resisted the urge to rip the watch off his arm, sling it to the ground, and stomp the life out of it.
     “Identity confirmed. Please wait while the emergency protocol is initiated,” the computer responded, before clicking on a calming musical arrangement specifically designed to relax the unhinged, but which had only ever aggravated Gab’s one nerve.
     “Mute music!”

     Unable to shake the feeling that she was being watched, Clara decided to take a scenic route back to the safe house, the lone place in the world where she could exist without fear. That is, unless she dropped her guard and led someone to it. She turned down Port Askance Blvd. toward the Merced Town Square. Intent on getting to know her temporary residence, she decided she’d take a quick tour, and perhaps reveal whether or not someone was actually following her.

     “Now, Gab,” Kate Seagrass intoned at her youngest son, “you know better. Red alert is only for emerg—”
     “MOM!” Gab yelled, “THIS IS IT!”
     “Calm down!”
     “I AM calm! Do you remember what you said about strangers?”
     Immediately alert and serious, she said, “stop. I’ll be right there.”
     “Okay,” he sighed.
     “Do not leave the store.”
     “I won’t, Mom.” He whined, “hurry,” though he was fairly sure she’d hung up before hearing that part. Tampon Lady had started to move down the block. She’ll disappear if I don’t keep an eye on her. He looked around the store as if there were another employee to watch the front, idiot, he silently chastised himself. They’re all downtown playing Whack-a-Suitman at the parade. He briefly smiled—the sad smile that accompanies nostalgic moments—at the memory of winning the 98th Annual Suitman Costume Competition by dressing like a tarred and feathered Suitman. It’d taken him and his mother—Mom! Shit, where’d Tampon Lady go?—he grabbed the keys from the hook under the counter, ran out the door pulling it until he heard the click, and then waved the key fob in front of the receiver. Looking up and down the street, he was already half a block away when the deadbolt finally slid into place. Pausing at each cross street, Gab took a moment, then proceeded to the next cross street. He’d made it to the third one when he saw motion at the end of the block. Not thinking of the noise his feet would make slapping pavement, Gab sprinted down the block where he hung a left and slid to a halt mere inches from the knife that otherwise would have sunk into his eye socket.
     “Why are you following me?” Clara ‘Tampon Lady’ Darin hissed.
     He stared at the practically unwavering steel point, frantically thinking of some answer that might end with him alive and the knife elsewhere. His mouth uselessly opened and closed, sweat poured down his temples, and he desperately tried to get his voice to quit hiding in the recesses of his bowels. Finally, he blurted, “don’t kill me! I can help you.”
     Lowering the knife, Clara spit, “help yourself first.”
     “You don’t understand,” he said, holding a hand to his racing heart, “you can’t run around using cash. You’ll get reported. Only certain places accept it, and,” he whispered, “they ain’t supposed to.”
     With obvious reluctance, she sheathed the knife, and said, “how can you help?”
     “I can show you what to look for,” he smiled, nervously, before adding, “at my shop. There’s a sign.”
     “How do I know this isn’t a trap?”
     He stared at her, the left corner of his mouth twitched slightly when he countered with, “how do I know you won’t kill me?”
     After thinking it over she said, “if this is a trap, I will kill you.”
     “Fair enough,” he agreed.

     “Again!” Steele shouted at the two lines of Hellions, who all pulled their ropes taut, and then heaved on opposite sides of the giant felled tree sitting on the Stadium’s 50 yard line. “You worthless clods, go again!” Two weeks into the preparations for this new gig and considering that the Sons of Guru were the most powerful cartel ever known, Steele had had the brilliant idea to test his crew. He needed to ditch the pissants, train the strong, and teach the smart. As with any leader of a tight-knit organization, he suspected he’d easily be able to choose the right ones for each part of the job. But, he also knew that gut instinct was far more reliable when backed by hard proof. “Again!” If he kept hollering at them, eventually, one would drop the rope and refuse to continue. That was who he was looking for, because that’d be the one he could trust to follow orders—to a point—and, thus, to lead the others. “You sniveling rats, go again! I swear, by Iphigenia, you’re a bunch of rocks! Dense as fuck! Again!” They’d already been at it for four hours, at any moment, Steele just knew one of them would do it, or rather, refuse to do it. “Again.” How could he claim to run a gang of vicious badasses, if none of them had the chutzpah to stop pointlessly pulling on ropes strapped to giant log? Just as Steele was about to yell again, Domino threw down the rope, climbed up the trunk, whipped his dick out and began pissing in a circle. The Hellions nearest his stream dropped their ropes as they jumped back, some cheered and others jeered. Managing to keep a straight-face, Steele shouted, “Domino!” as he turned his back and walked off the field.

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