Beware When Axolotls Frolic

Flaming axolotls wormed their way in and out of the dead and hollowed cactus as they scurried up and down it’s length. The cactus shared the desert floor with me for a bed. The foul ash of cigarettes and cheap tequila had awakened my mouth before my eyes had opened. I already knew I was in the desert; in the night I had become one with the desert, I alive within it and the desert alive upon my tongue and parched lips. My lids parted with no cloud or fog of awakening, the images instantly sharp, the colors vivid in dawn’s soft rose light. I wondered if these manic salamanders were going to burrow tunnels through my carcass as well. Paranoia. Probably the residual effect of the mescaline. From some deep tangled undergrowth there were brief flashes of images. Syringes. Sodium Pentothal, dark rituals, some really bad shit had gone down here.

 

A dilemma: which urgency is greater? The need, the desperate clawing thirst of dehydration, or the necessity to remain absolutely still in order to prevent my skull from splitting open? The growing glow of a lust for flesh beamed from the cold black eyes of the axolotls. One of them ( a female. I’m almost sure of it), hissed and bared it’s fangs to me. With paranoia still active upon my mind it instantly occurred to me that this could be her banshee call to all the rest of her sisters across the wastes. Within moments there could be an orgy of blood lust descending upon me from all directions! The cranial distress had to be endured: I needed to leave this place at once and find water. Any water. A mud puddle would do.

 

The desert at dawn is an enchanting place. Just like the woodland or meadow, the urban jungle or the patchwork quilt of suburbia, dawn is the intersection between the denizens of the night as they retire and the creatures of the light as they awaken to their sun. In the desert it is all out in the open. Unless one of those creatures who burrow beneath the ground, there are very few places to hide. The process of raising my head and then making it to my feet was excruciating. I was able to move by only the most basic of motor functions, little above the point of my brain stem able to perform anything but to brace against the merciless pulse pounding like a bass drum between my ears. I was uncertain if I was joining those retiring or those waking. Or if there was even a choice.

 

Upon standing I found that the slimy little bastards that had been plotting their feast upon my mortal remains had suddenly vanished. Most likely burrowed down inside of that dead Saguaro to escape the daily furnace of the desert floor. Peering off into the east horizon the earth emerged from the blanket of night, heaving a sigh to fortify itself to the long and blazing hours ahead. In the far distance behind, beyond the long and slow rising hills still cloaked beneath night’s retreat, I swear there were strains of the Doors Riders on the Storm. Wishful thinking. Rain would have been a comfort, even in those early hours when the air was still crisp.

 

The desert is still a good place to hide for those who wish to escape human eyes. It’s not a place a lot of people want to be. Vague recollections began to return. A caravan of black SUVs, going off road into an ocean of tan, raising plumes of dust in their wake. The meeting place had been designated by a set of coordinates transmitted over burner phones. There was no plausible reason for anyone to be at that location at that hour if they had not been invited. Yes, the desert is a good place to hide. All kinds of strange shit happens in the desert. You just never hear about it.

 

I had discovered that I was just a few yards on the opposite bank of a shallow, dry arroyo running behind a gas station. It was a Valero station. Yes. That had been the last sign of any human habitation before the caravan had turned off the highway, at least another 20 miles beyond. I had no recall of how I had arrived there, only that I had seen the place the day before. Or the day before that. Whatever day this was.

 

There had been four of them, all high-riding, sable chariots stampeding at the force of over two-thousand horses into the trackless desert wastes, chasing after the waning sun. They were the four horsemen, all in black, galloping at breakneck speed to meet their fateful destiny amid the sands. All military grade models with the beefed up suspension and chassis, kevlar panels, bullet proof glass. Even the lamps all around were cloaked in tight fitting black mesh to give the illusion that each was a smooth black bullet when moving at speed. They were dressed up just like their inhabitants in their black suits, ties and sunglasses. And their socks, their belts, their hearts. Black has always been the official color for villains and, coincidentally, for government issue vehicles.

 

I stumbled across the distance to the front of the station, each unsteady footfall terminating in a jarring shock up the spine like the hammer game at the county fair with my head substituted for the bell. After water I planned on remaining perfectly still and in the shade for as long as possible. Reaching the corner of the storefront I placed my hand against the wall to steady myself for a moment. I had to wonder if that tequila had not been mixed in bottling with an errant lot of Drano. After taking the first tentative step toward the entrance I caught sight of a reflection in the glass. Logically I knew it had to be my own yet I could hardly recognize this sight before my eyes. There, staring back at me with hollow and red-rimmed eyes from the window, was the image of a man who had been shaken to his very core, witness to some abomination so grotesque as to make the saints shudder. Or a man who had seen a vision of his own mortal end. Haunted. For the first time since arising I began to consciously try remembering what else had happened and how or why I ended up here.

 

I managed a slow shuffle across the front of the store and winced in preparation for the deafening welcome chime that was sure to erupt upon opening the door. Thankfully it had been deactivated. The cosmic imbalance of this small mercy was corrected immediately by the humming blue haze of florescent lamps, the favored instrument of optical torture for gas stations and mini-mart stores nationwide. Following the soft, rose light of a desert dawn it was a particularly vicious assault. I’d had every intention of snaring one of those pairs of black sunglasses from those hired goons: every pair is identical so surely they are acquired in bulk. Perhaps there had been a pair to spare. They might even lie somewhere out back, in the dust. Maybe by then the axolotls had dragged them inside of their cactus to be placed upon an altar of sacrifice for the salamander queen. Wherever they had landed, they were not on my head where they were sorely needed. I was left stunned, adjusting to the harsh buzz.

 

“Jesus, mister! You look like shit!”

 

The wizened attendant may have been diminished in his other senses, but clearly his vision was still keen. I chose not to acknowledge his observation. It had been shared with no other than me and my own eyes had affirmed it just moments before. The horror was amplified in the distorted images captured in the glare of the cooler case doors. A gallon jug of water, two sixteen ounce talls of Mountain Dew Kick Start (dark cherry) in hand, I careened away from those accursed mirrors! My equilibrium still reeling and the cold sweat of paranoia seeping out of every pore I found my way to the register. I had to weave through waxy aisles, dodging the menacing blobs of cardboard marketing displays for king size candy bars, cheap wine with screw caps and windshield washer fluid. They seemed to be self propagating, another emerging at every corner. As I finally broke free to the white space approaching the counter I turned one last time. The store was empty except for me and Jerry, the night clerk.

 

“That gonna be all for ya, mister?”

 

“No. Lemme get one of those little packs of aspirin, two packs of Marlboro red, uhh… one of these Five Hour extra strength, and….”, I searched up into the racks of more protected goods behind him before finally spotting, “… gimme a pair of those sunglasses up there on the right.”

 

Jerry took a moment to find the right pair and fumbled to remove them from the display, thinking to ask as he did “Any gas today?”

 

I actually had to pause for just a second, not totally certain that I had not driven here myself. A glance out to the lot confirmed my recollection: there were no vehicles on the lot. “Nope. That’s it.”

 

“Okay then, that’s $34.96.” I reached into my pants pocket and found a wad of bills, extracted a couple of twenties and pushed them across the counter. Jerry took the cash, made the change and could not take advantage of that golden opportunity to just lazily doze away the remainder of his shift. “Rough night?”

 

Against my better judgment I briefly made eye contact, maybe offered half a nod in acknowledgment and busied myself with the priorities first. Water. Then the aspirin, with more water, followed by the Five Hour and washed down with half a Kick Start and more water. This consumed a little over two minutes, during which Jerry (apparently mistaking my silence for actually caring) proceeded to tell me about how he loved it out here in the desert. About how he had landed here after getting cleaned out by wife number four; how his life was simple now, with just his bike and a trailer and Saturday nights with all the other Vietnam vets at the VFW. I may have accidentally nodded a few times while fitting the sunglasses, thus encouraging him to go on.

 

“ …. , yeah, so it don’t pay much, but I got my veteran’s benefits and shit, ya know? Hey, I’m goin’ out for a smoke, man. Ya wanna join me?”

 

That sounded like a good idea. I had two packs of cowboy killers burning a hole in my pockets. “Hey Jerry, what day is this?”

 

“Whoa-ho-hooo! You really did have a wild one! It’s Tuesday, man!”

 

Tuesday. That meant I had landed here sometime Monday night or the very wee hours of the new day. So that first ride out into the desert must have occurred on late Sunday? Or Saturday? There was still so much missing. “Let’s go have that smoke.”

 

That first drag that you take off of a Marlboro red the morning after is magical. It makes you remember why you liked smoking cigarettes. And after a prolonged binge of any nature that first blast of tar and nicotine is a catalyst to mental clarity. It braces you for that moment when things start making sense. This apparently had the same effect for Jerry, who noted with some mild astonishment that there were no vehicles present anywhere on the lot.

 

“Hey man, how did you get here?”

 

“Walked.”

 

“No shit. From where, man?”

 

“Out there, somewhere….the desert.” He either didn’t really care or he found the good sense not to pry any further. “What time did you come on last night, Jerry?”

 

“Eleven, same as always.”

 

“Many customers overnight? Any one stick out in your memory?”

 

“There ain’t but two or three most nights. Seen one of them big black things, ya know, like one of them Escalades, pulled in here around 2:30 or so. Got gas, some old fella come in and paid cash. Nothin’ special about him, I guess. He drove off and a couple more of them trucks just like it come along on the road right behind him.”

 

This piqued my interest. So. The bastards had dropped me off out back there some time in the last six hours or so. I still could draw no recollection of this. Pull off the road in range but out of sight, drop your parcel, send a scout ahead to ensure no witnesses or surveillance cameras to clean up. But why here? They could have dropped me anywhere. Or… could it be I had escaped?

 

“What’d the old fella look like? Kinda like skin made out of wood, Harry Dean Stanton hopped up on prednisone?”

 

“Yeah! That’s exactly what he looked like! And he had those shark eyes, ya know?”

 

“Yeah. I know.”

 

“You know the guy? Was that your ride?”

 

In the soft light of dawn I could forego the shades for just a moment. I lit another cigarette with one hand while pulling the glasses from my head. “Jerry, remember when you were in Nam? Sometimes maybe you saw some shit you weren’t supposed to see? This is like one of those times. You should forget you ever saw that guy and never say anything about this to anyone. You never saw him, you never saw me. Got it?”

 

“Who are you?”

 

“Exactly.”

 

It took another minute before the full grasp of it crossed his face. “ Uhh...maybe I better go back inside. My relief gets here in about 40 minutes and I still gotta take out the trash and….” he muttered on as he went back inside. Jerry was harmless, otherwise they would have iced him when they got the fuel. All of this would genuinely be forgotten in the bottom of a whiskey bottle by 2:00 that afternoon. Left alone on the cool concrete I returned the lenses to my head and began to try to reconstruct events.

 

The lead vehicle had been packed with goons, the advance guard. No necks and bullet heads, these were the cream of the crop. Just the sort of humorless tools you needed for a gig like this. The next SUV was the command vehicle with a driver, two more heavily armed gorillas, Jimmy Boy with his rosary beads and the big Kahuna himself, Agent Mueller. The third of their company contained yet another driver, four more goons and two hapless victims bound and gagged upon the floor in the back, and finally the tail vehicle with two well-armed senior agents to cover the rear flank. Other than by some remote satellite connected to the sympathetic eyes of some NSA bunker they were undetected.

There was an enormous risk entailed in this meeting. Already there were too many digital and paper trails. It used to be safe to assume that these would never see the light of day; indeed, these communications had been designed with the thought that they were to remain concealed. It had all been operated on a “need to know” basis and as long as those parties in the know were in charge of admission it all worked just fine. Edward Snowden was just the first plug to be removed from the dike. Now it was all coming unraveled. Secrets were spilling over the floodgate in a volume that required an expulsion pump and all they had in hand was a bucket and mop. Desperate times call for desperate measures.

 

The B-12 and caffeine were doing their worst, reviving any vestiges of more illicit stimulants still in my system. With the right chemical combinations you can easily jump start a good speed buzz. Another half gallon of water and a few more Marlboros started to recall events, disjointed and out of sequence like taking an old VHS tape and advancing or reversing through the grainy screen to stop and play periodically to find the desired spot. In this slow and tortuous fashion the events replayed even as the axolotls dozed.

 

Jimmy Boy was anguished, quietly reciting prayers by rote as he nervously rubbed his rosaries. Or he may have been rehearsing how he was going to spin this for confession. That is if he still indulged that practice. For a moment I actually felt a bit of sympathy. It must be crushing to discover that once you have left the bureau there is no longer that direct line to a higher authority. You’re then left to sort it out for yourself or rely upon the tainted guidance of others with their own agenda. I guess life in the bureau doesn’t really prepare you for this. Well, after all, this isn’t exactly “your father’s” FBI any more. Not since old J. Edgar shuffled off of this mortal coil in a hemline just above the knees and a pair of modest pumps. They just don’t make lawmen like that any more.

 

Agent Mueller was growing annoyed. Jimmy had proven to be a useful idiot up until a few months ago. Mueller simply could not comprehend how a man of such freakish proportions felt the need to be such an attention whore.He’d gone so far with the piety that it appeared he was starting to believe his own bull shit, which in this business was a very dangerous thing to do. Fidelity, Bravery, Integrity. This was for public consumption, part of the confidence game. For lifers like themselves these words were just another part of the uniform. You don’t need to believe the lie to embrace the lie, yet somehow Jimmy had forgotten this. He’d allowed himself to be swept up into the celebrity culture within the beltway, become too chummy with a lot of the wrong people who in turn knew how to massage his ego. Jimmy had become a rock star.

 

“Jesus Fucking Christ! Will you quit playing with those goddamn beads!”, Agent Mueller suddenly snapped.

 

Jimmy was jolted, dropped the beads and reflexively cowered like a dog. “Sorry boss!”

 

Agent Mueller quickly regained his composure. “Jim, this is a long shot. You know that, so I have a bail out plan ready for you. If this thing gets away from us you’ll be going to Mindanao to lead a band of up and coming Filipino rappers. You’ll be a god among their people, Jim. They’ll call you Stretch MC and the Altar Boys. As long as you never leave the Philippines you’ll be fine. It’s the best I could do for you under the circumstances, but hell, it beats federal prison doesn’t it?”

 

Jimmy Boy didn’t appear to have heard this, or if he had he seemed completely unconcerned by it. He had dropped to his knees upon the floor, searching for his lost rosaries. It seemed an entirely fitting posture for a moment which demanded a certain measure of contrition. They both knew that were it not for old Jimmy Boy going off script and trying to hedge his bets ten days out from the election they probably wouldn’t even be there. The nameless, faceless and unaccountable gears of the machine would have continued to grind away, as ever with none the wiser. The precision engine of a mass collective idiocy had nearly become an object of perpetual motion. This wasn’t the end of the ride, but it was sure as hell heading off of the track.

 

There were a lot of people in that toxic DC to New York orbit that stood to lose a great deal. Pride, privilege, careers, reputations: matters trivial to most other than themselves. The natives were growing restless, the first hint of blood was in the air and the hounds had been loosed. A good hound will catch a scent and begin his pursuit. When the scent of fear is added to that bouquet his pursuit becomes relentless. Unless you give him something more enticing. Agent Mueller’s conjuring act at the Special Counsel’s office was fast running out of things to throw them off of the trail. If this gambit didn’t yield something spectacular Jimmy Boy was going to meet the same fate as the two Secret Service agents that were strung up in the vehicle behind them. The Philippines’ loss could be compensated later.

 

My mind encountered more static for a few minutes, prompting consumption of the second can of Kick Start and a more persistent dosage of nicotine. From the clouded blur of images I snatched that moment we had passed the Valero station. The skies had already descended to twilight at that hour, the time of evening when all the photocells seem to switch in unison and the hideous yellow orbs of high pressure sodium lamps alight like engorged fireflies. But not there, not in the desert. As the dim lights of the gas station faded in the rearview mirror only the desert night lay ahead. There came only the haziest recall of the point at which this caravan turned off road, by then wholly dark. Plumes of dust and sand sent up in their wake were absorbed and unnoticed in the night.

 

I could only guess at how far we traveled off road, that segment of the passage returning only in fleeting images of fog lights cutting a shallow trench across the desert floor, burrowing further and further into oblivion. It was quiet for a long period.

 

“Mindanao? Really? I suppose that would be alright boss. The Philippines is a good Catholic country, isn’t it?”

 

“Yes, Jimmy my boy, that it is. Good Catholic country. Definitely in the top 5.”

 

“Did I tell ya about that time I met Pope Francis?”

 

“Yes, you did Jimmy. We’re almost there.” Mueller let his gaze linger upon the giant oaf for a moment. It was like looking at a very large, very stupid dog, those vacant eyes gleaming with that desperate need for approval. He wondered if he could pull the trigger.

 

The destination was far into the desert, on the edge of a few isolated islands of rocky outcroppings climbing to rejoin the range that had abandoned them there. There, nestled in the embrace of one of these, there sat a forgotten and disused wooden shack. It looked like something which might have been left over from an old mining camp. All kinds of things get lost in the desert, but as with all things lost they only remain so until someone goes looking.

 

The teams were quick to exit their vehicles, moving with purpose to their tasks. Eyes were posted in a perimeter by black suits that melded into the night. The tail vehicle had remained parked some way behind to guard against any approach from the highway. The squad immediately behind hustled into the shack with the two captives, securing the scene for their superiors to enter and commence the festivities.

 

“Grab the black bag out of the back, Jim Boy. It’s time to get this party started.”

 

You know on paper when you look at Agent Mueller’s resume you might get the idea that you’re dealing with a boy scout. The kind of guy you’d want to think of as the straight arrow. Solid. But he’s a stellar example of that Annakin Skywalker to Darth Vader transformation that occurs in Washington DC. Like a black hole in space it is a death spiral, a crushing force de-atomizing even the most gargantuan blocks of matter that dare to fall within it’s orbit. It is a portal, a cosmic wormhole to an alternate reality of Orwellian proportions. All matter is transformed, reassembled into something that still resembles it’s former self, but is forever changed, corrupted. This is true for intentions as well. The best of intentions are lost within this maelstrom, replaced by a dogged determination to preserve the agency or bureau or whatever department of that alternate reality they have been absorbed into. The mission forgotten, it just becomes another job.

 

Jimmy Boy had really screwed the pooch this time. He’d been entrusted not only to cover the bureau’s ass under his own watch, but to protect them from exposure of transgressions spanning Mueller’s own reign. It wasn’t about Bob or Jim or Andy, not the men but the rank. Nothing mattered but the bureau and it’s power, control and influence. It had nothing to do with justice, despite being under the purview of the department of that name. Agent Mueller was god-damned if it was going to fall without a fight. He was going to need to land one hell of a blow here if there was even to be a chance to stay in the ring.

 

Despite it’s decrepit exterior the interior of the shack had all the makings of the modern man cave. A safe house of sorts, obviously used before. Probably to some other nefarious purpose. A sturdy table with a full set of four chairs, a couple of sofas, big screen TV, liquor cabinet and an icebox full of Bud Light. The damned place was even piped with AC! All that was needed was buffalo wings, nachos and a couple of buxom bar wenches and it could have been a Super Bowl party. The windows had been boarded up on the outside and blackout shutters were fixed on the interior to insure invisibility. The two Secret Service agents were propped up in seats at the table, stoic under the glare of the low hanging light fixture suspended above the table.

 

Agent Mueller entered with Jimmy Boy at heel carrying the black bag. He coldly appraised the room, the agents. He moved in a slow, deliberate manner, exuding complete authority over the scene: there would be no mistaking who was in charge of this operation. He slipped out of his suit coat and hung it over the back of one of the chairs. The two agents were seated opposite one another, Mueller at the head of the table standing menacingly above them. He tapped the broad shade of the light fixture to send it swinging side to side so it’s light alternated in pendulum fashion between the two. He was heading into the throes of a hot flash, the beads began to form upon his brow.

 

“ Jesus H. Christ! It’s hot as fuck in here! Jimmy? Crank up that AC, will ya? I want it cold enough to hang meat in here!”

 

Jimmy Boy obediently scurried to the controls and placed the unit on max. Agent Mueller loosened his tie and collar then unbuttoned his cuffs and rolled up his sleeves. He was on board for the full ride now, no getting off this train until it reached the final station, wherever that might be. Finally taking his seat at the table he lifted the black bag from the floor and placed it in his lap. He unzipped the top of the bag and carefully examined the contents, methodically selecting his implements as he went. These were arranged on the table. Ten grams of some select Peruvian flake, twelve doses of mescaline, a half dozen morphine ampules, three quarts of El Toro tequila, three Cuban cigars, six syringes with a vial of sodium pentathol, a brown paper sack of amyl nitrate and last but not least, two lemons with a paring knife. It was looking for all the world like they were planning on staying a while.

 

“Alright then. I think we’re about to get started. Jimmy would you remove our guests’ gags? I think it would be nice, now that we’re all settled in, to have a nice little conversation about our president.”

 

The two agents exchanged silent, knowing looks across the table as Mueller opened the small bottle with the coke and helped himself to a couple of hits. By the time Jimmy Boy had removed the gags Mueller had popped the little red sombrero off the top of the first quart of El Toro. I must say I was somewhat surprised to discover that a man from Agent Mueller’s background had discovered the many fine merits of Peruvian coke and cheap tequila in combination. You have to be careful with that stuff, though. If not properly balanced in intake it can lead to blindness, impotence or worse. In extreme cases this can even lead to reptilian hallucinations.

 

The first agent, seated to Mueller’s left, did not waste any time using his mouth once the gag was removed. “You’ll never get away with this Mueller!”

 

I slight sneer turned up at the corner of Agent Mueller’s mouth, the reflexively contemptuous response of a man accustomed to doing whatever he damn well pleased. His eyes waxed over cold and black, like shark’s eyes in those seconds just before the kill. He cut a wedge of lemon, took another pull from the tequila and then viciously thrust the paring knife into the agent’s thigh.

 

“Won’t I? Let me tell you something, boy-o. This is the F-fucking-B-I, sonny. We can get away with any damned thing we like. And do you know why son? We are the authorities who police the authorities. We write whatever fucking rules we want.”

 

From the other side of the table the other agent chimed in. “You’re a disgrace to the badge, Mueller!”

 

Sweat was pouring profusely from Mueller now. “Maybe I am and maybe I’m not. There’s fuck all you’re going to do about it. Son-of-a-bitch! Jimmy! Did you turn up that AC?”

 

“Sure boss! I just did! It’ll cool down more soon. Maybe it’s the tequila….”

 

Eww! Maybe it’s the tequila! Maybe you can hug my nuts! Sit down and shut the fuck up!” Agent Mueller hastily mopped his brow with a shirt sleeve then let out a long sigh. He leaned back in his chair for a moment and reached for one of the cigars. He tapped it tentatively on the table before lighting, as though contemplating his words carefully. After a short time more he had lit the cigar and had created a thick cloud of haze floating beneath the light. “You know I used to love these god damn things. They just don’t taste as good now that anyone can get them. Do you know what I mean?”

 

From a neighboring sofa Jimmy replied “But I don’t like cigars, boss!”

 

Without even turning to look at him Mueller responded “Wasn’t speaking to you, Jimmy. Why don’t you just go outside and bark at the moon? I’ll call if I need you.”

 

“Are you sure boss? I brought my inquisition costume...maybe I could...”

 

“I said I’ll call if I need you! Go!” Jimmy scurried out the door with his tail between his legs, then Mueller resumed. “Come on! You fellas know what I’m talking about, dontcha?”

 

The agents again exchanged subtle glances between themselves, looking for some signal of agreement to either say nothing or to play along. The second agent provided a barely perceptible nod which seemed to indicate the latter.

 

“Yeah, I think I know what you’re talking about. What does that have to do with us?”

 

“Oh, I think we all know the answer to that now, don’t we? I shouldn’t have to spell it out for you.”

 

Now the first agent with the paring knife embedded in his leg spoke. “Alright Mueller. What is it you want?”

 

“Now we’re getting somewhere. I want what you know and we know that you know something. You may not even know that you know it, so we’re just going to have a little conversation about the activities of the current chief executive. Both of you have been in and out of the presidential detail for the past year. I want to know how many Russians, names, dates, locations…, you know what? They don’t even have to be Russians! A Bulgarian, a Byelorussian, hell even a Polack! Anyone who could even be suspected of being a Russian. That’s all we need and you need to understand this: I will get this information out of you one way...” Mueller paused here for emphasis, patting a hand upon the vial of sodium pentathol, “… or another. So! What’s it gonna be, fellas?”

 

The look exchanged between the two Secret Service agents this time took on a new tone. The rumors about the old FBI warhorse going unhinged appeared now to be well founded. Both men grew fully aware of the degree of their peril. Whether a classic case of “you don’t know what you don’t know” or not, this was not going to end well. The cache of illicit substances was only going to hasten the mayhem.

 

Agent Mueller reached down into the black bag again and extracted a pale blue file folder. It was placed upon the table far enough in front of him for the two agents to see. He let it sit there unopened for a few minutes to intensify the suspense while he groped into the inner pocket of his suit coat to locate his reading glasses. With dramatic flair he casually removed these from their case and busied himself with cleaning the lenses, holding them up to the lamp periodically to examine his work. When finally perching them at the end of his nose Agent Mueller gruffly cleared his throat. The Peruvian Snow was drying him out.

 

He opened the file and began to catalog a long list of dates, locations and parties known to be present at each. In some instances Mueller was even able to read verbatim transcripts of conversations which had been intercepted by various means of electronic surveillance. In every single case cited one or both of these agents had been a part of the presidential detail. What Mueller was after was their knowledge of any clandestine meetings, the presence of other unknown or unrecorded parties and any conversations which may have been in locales which signals intelligence had been unable to obtain. And in every case the agents were able to affirm information which was already present, but to Mueller’s growing chagrin neither had any additional information to add to the record.

 

He had seemed almost good humored at times as the pages of the file progressed. Even though they weren’t telling him what he wanted to hear he seemed to be playing along. The wry smirk on his lips said that he knew (at least in his own mind) there was something there and these two punks just weren’t giving it up. Fine. They could go through the motions and amuse themselves with this for hours. Agent Mueller was fully prepared to, in fact was looking forward to, employing more advanced means of interrogation. This was just foreplay. He noted at one point that a small pool of blood had formed at the foot of the first agent’s left leg, where he had earlier impaled the paring knife. He lauded the agent for his testicular fortitude in withstanding the blade embedded into his thigh for so long.

 

“I’d offer to remove it, son, but then you might bleed out. Here, have one of these...” and Mueller stuffed one of the mescaline tablets down the agent’s throat. When the man began to choke Mueller doused him with El Toro to clear the obstruction. For good measure he poured a little more around the edges of the knife blade. “We’d better keep that sterilized at least, don’t you think?” The agent was a tough nut, only wincing at the abuse.

 

Agent Mueller stepped away from the table for a few minutes then and paced the floor. He scooped up a couple more hits of flake and popped the seal off of the second bottle of tequila. A man already obsessed with his quarry, this modern day Captain Ahab was now transcending into entirely new realms of mania. The obsession, with the aid of liberal consumption of narcotics and hallucinogens, had blossomed into a full blown psychotic episode. The first lesson of life within the beltway is that you must embrace the madness or you shall perish. The second lesson is that once you are on the inside the only way to survive outside of the beltway is to bring the madness with you.

 

For hours long into the night and past the dawn Agent Mueller toyed with his prey. He had the pair of goons posted outside of the shack haul the first agent outside, still in his chair, to allow him to interrogate them separately to probe for inconsistencies. With each dead end a lesser man would have begun to hear the voice of pessimism whispering from the darker corners of his mind, but not Bob Mueller. At every impasse the mania grew, with more coke, more tequila and when the edge began to wear off an occasional “popper” from the brown paper sack. As the full orb of the sun raised above the east horizon Agent Mueller had exhausted his tricks. He broke from his toils to step outside and take a few breaths of fresh air. Yes, a few precious breaths of air before taking the final dive. There was only one thing left.

 

Agent number one had been outside for several hours, propped next to the command SUV where the goons kept watch from the comfort of heavily padded leather seats. Agent Mueller waved at them and signaled for them to bring man back inside the shack. The muscled suits quickly obliged and as they raised the chair Mueller asked if they had seen Jimmy Boy. As they headed toward the shack they motioned in unison with a jerk of their heads in the direction of the vehicle. Mueller nodded his recognition and as the two passed to enter he strolled out to retrieve his understudy.

 

“Wake up, Jimmy Boy! It’s time.”

 

Jimmy snapped awake, muttering “Hail Mary, mother of grace...”

 

“Yeah, yeah….c’mon, buddy boy, we’re past all that now. Time to finish this!”

 

There they were, two legendary lawmen taking that final ride into the sunset. That lonesome harmonica would soon cue the closing theme and the credits would begin to roll. Back inside the shack the goons were dismissed and Jimmy Boy donned the red satin robes of the inquisition he had packed for the occasion. It was time for the final act.

 

 

Agent Mueller administered the pentathol, recalling some of the field combat skills he’d earned from Nam. It was performed by muscle memory, in his mind Mueller had already metamorphosed into the avenging Archangel wielding not a syringe, but the flaming sword of justice. Though still physically present in this realm he now existed within an entirely separate plane. His corpus stumbled from the table and collapsed upon a sofa from where he would sit and pour more coke and tequila into it as he watched Jimmy Boy perform. Before his eyes there played out an epic contest between angels and demons, the howls of a humanity wailing for salvation rose in a chorus for his ears only.

 

The serum, always reliable, was fast acting. Jimmy Boy relished the role of confessor; the red robes, the whip in his hand, it was all he could do to conceal his arousal.

 

“What Russians were present at the president’s meeting on March 4, 2017? What were their names?What deals were made? Confess, damn you! Confess!”

 

One agent wept, blubbering some childhood memory of his first dog being put to sleep. The other confessed to some rather embarrassing sexual fetishes. Undeterred, Jimmy pressed on.

 

“Who were the Russian prostitutes in Taormina, Sicily on the night of May 26, 2017? We know Russian agents were present at the summit. Where and when did the president meet with these agents? Confess, confess, CONFESS!!!”

 

It was relentless, the flailing whip, the incessant badgering. Jimmy Boy was in the full throes of a righteous fervor, the instrument of the vengeful angel seated just a few feet away. Hours upon hours passed. Fabric had been ripped away, rending cruel tears at the tip of the whip into the flesh beneath. Blood spatter had rained throughout the shack and growing desperate exhortations to confess became feeble croaks as he grew hoarse from the prolonged effort. Outside the sun had passed over the sky and prepared to fall into the mountain range to the west. And nothing but gibberish had spilled from the mouths of their captives. As this day drew to a close, as reluctant as they were to admit it, it appeared that this gambit would yield nothing. Maybe Mindanao wouldn’t be so bad.

 

“Jim. Jimmy….JIM! For Christ’s sake! Stop before you hurt yourself. Sit down! Have a drink.”

 

Jimmy Boy exited the trance he had fallen under, dazed and suddenly unsteady on his feet. He turned to Mueller. “ But boss! I almost got ‘em!”

 

“No, Jimmy. You don’t. We don’t have shit!”

 

This hit Jimmy Boy with a wallop. The stunned and incredulous look upon his face slowly melting into another face. The face of fear, sudden panic like realizing you’ve stepped off the ledge of the 44th floor. He suddenly grew dizzy.

 

“Sit down Jimmy. It’s over, take a load off. It’ll be dark soon, we’ll clean this up and...”

 

“And what, boss? What do we do next? Do I have to leave for Mindanao already?”

 

“No Jimmy. Not yet. We have a few more things to take care of first. Come on over here and sit down, will you?” There was that stupid dog face again. Damn it! He was going to make this difficult! Jimmy Boy came over and undraped the hood of his Cardinal’s robes to reveal a mat of sweat soaked hair plastered against his scalp as he took his place next to Agent Mueller. That eager and trusting gleam shone in his eyes. Once seated Mueller clapped Jimmy on the leg and offered a curt but reassuring nod.

Then he rose from the sofa and stooped down to the black bag, still resting opened on the floor. He reached a zipper on a side pocket of the bag and pulled it open. Inside of this pocket was a 9mm Glock (one of his personal firearms) with a fully loaded clip. Mueller reached in and found the safety, switched it off and then pulled the pistol out of it’s hiding place.

 

The two agents had been whipped into unconsciousness, blissfully unaware of the their fates. Agent Mueller leveled the weapon first at the head of one and then the other and pulled the trigger, leaving seamless holes in the middle of each of their foreheads and brain matter with blood showered upon the floors and walls behind them. Jimmy Boy was stunned.

 

“Was that actually necessary boss?”

 

Mueller turned, looking thoughtful, perhaps reconsidering. “Yes, Jimmy my boy, I’m afraid it was. Don’t worry about it.” He turned back again to take a final look at his handiwork before snatching another Cuban from the table, Glock still in hand, and resuming his seat on the sofa. “You know Jimmy, I never meant for it to go like this.”

 

“I’m sorry, boss. It’s my fault, I know. I just….I….”

 

“It’s okay, Jimmy. Look, you deserve to know the whole truth now.”

 

“What? What truth? I don’t understand...”

 

“Jimmy do you have any idea who we really work for?”

 

“Well, for the American people, of course!”

 

Agent Mueller chuckled. “Ahh Jimmy, Jimmy, Jimmy….ha ha! That’s what I used to think too. But no, that’s not it. No Jimmy, the real truth is that we work for the Bell and Howell Corporation. They’ve been running this country ever since the moon landing. Surprised?”

 

“Uh….Really? Bell and Howell? Those late night infomercial people?”

 

“That’s right Jimmy. Flashlights, lanterns, sunglasses….it’s all bull shit. Those aren’t really commercials at all. They are secret encrypted communications to the operatives. Hide in plain sight, you know the drill!”

 

“But...”

 

Agent Mueller held up the Glock and turned the grip sideways to display the end of it. “This is the butt...”, then turning the gun over pointed the barrel at Jimmy Boy’s forehead, “...and this is the barrel.”

He pulled the trigger and fired. Mueller lit his cigar, wiped down his weapon, gathered the rest of his goodies from the table and placed them all back inside the black bag. It was time to go.

 

It’s not certain what happened to Agent Mueller. Some say he just wandered off somewhere into the Nevada desert where he still wanders aimlessly today. There were some rumors that he had opted for radical cosmetic surgery, assumed a new identity and emigrated to New Zealand where he developed a patent for a noise canceling toilet bowl. None of this has ever been confirmed.

 

The next time you might be channel surfing in the wee hours of the morning don’t scroll past that Bell and Howell commercial for that Tac-Light. In one of those scenes filmed in the desert, if you look really carefully, you will see the red reflection of some tiny, beady eyes on the edge of that arc of light. I’m fairly certain those are axolotls. But I could, of course, be wrong.

 

Comments

Passion Blues Added Mar 6, 2018 - 5:44am
Sick! I love it!
Leroy Added Mar 6, 2018 - 8:20am
Wow!  What can I say?  We are fortunate to have such a talent here.
 
I'll never watch a Bell and Howell commercial the same again.
The Burghal Hidage Added Mar 6, 2018 - 9:19am
Thanks Leroy and Blue :)
 
How could anyone possibly believe those are real commercials? I mean come on!
Even A Broken Clock Added Mar 6, 2018 - 10:52am
Burghal, now I know why you have been missing from these pages for a while. You were busy writing this fantasy. Good job, I enjoyed it. And the Bell and Howell twist really was great.
 
You know, the conspiracy went further back though. Subliminal messages were sent through vehicles like Gilligan's Island. You don't think it coincidental that the rich man was Thurston HOWELL, now do you?
Leroy Added Mar 6, 2018 - 11:32am
And then you have "Saved by the Bell."  Talking about subliminal messages.
The Burghal Hidage Added Mar 6, 2018 - 11:58am
EABC - Yep. Thats my story and I'm sticking to it.
The Burghal Hidage Added Mar 6, 2018 - 12:04pm
believing that those commercials are really just commercials....that is nearly as implausible as believing that the Mueller investigation is really an investigation. It is a farce, just like the preceding. The way DC and all of their cronies work if they had anything of any real consequence the coup would already be underway
Dave Volek Added Mar 6, 2018 - 12:48pm
Fantastic story!
 
A friend of mine used to work for a TV station in Lethbridge, Alberta. He said that a 30-second spot on suppertime news is around $1000. If the station serves an audience of 100,000 and if 20% are actually watching the local newcast, Bell & Howell has to sell a lot of flashlights to pay for that one spot. A lot of flashlights! With an ad campaign of three or four weeks, it would seem that everyone in Lethbridge should have a B&H flashlight by the end of the campaign. I just don't see the profit. Maybe you are on to a believable conspiracy.
 
The Burghal Hidage Added Mar 6, 2018 - 12:56pm
Ahh, I know Lethbridge! That's just past the last tree on the way to Edmonton, isn't it?
 
Thanks Dave. Those B&H commercials have been a source of amusement to me for years. They should be called "CrapCo".  We are to believe that these products are so sensational that no self-respecting retailer would put them on their shelves. Huh. 
Even A Broken Clock Added Mar 6, 2018 - 5:31pm
Burghal,  I'm convinced that the Mueller investigation is finding real crimes, and those crimes are coming closer and closer to the inner circle of the White House. But one thing that has never been clearly defined, what constitutes collusion?  Is it collusion if a member of Trump's inner circle became aware of an illegal hacking of emails from Russian sources, notified the President of this availability, he then broadcasts his receptivity to this wealth of illegally gotten emails, and then lo and behold, those emails begin to be released to the world. Does that constitute collusion? I believe it does, which negates the premise of your piece.
 
But I loved your piece as speculative fiction.
The Burghal Hidage Added Mar 6, 2018 - 6:00pm
We'll all see how speculative it is. Seems to me that the investigation has unwittingly shed much more light upon the malfeasance of the opposition campaign (and a laundry list of their earlier transgressions), the corruption/politicization of the FBI, the FISA courts, etc.
 
I know where you are from and my memory serves me that 9-1/2 out of 10 WV residents have donkeys tatooed on their asses. As I stated in thread above, if they had anything, if they were even close, the stake would already be prepared and the fires lit. 
 
Where have all of the leaks come from? Day after day, and at least once a week they are all crowing "this is it! there's your proof!" And every time? Well, he's still president, isn't he. I'm going to recommend you for vodka therapy. Or not. You can believe what you want because you will anyway.
The Burghal Hidage Added Mar 6, 2018 - 6:23pm
Well, looking at the board I see all the woodpeckers are coming out now. Manyana folks!
Pardero Added Mar 6, 2018 - 6:51pm
The Burghal Hidage,
     Vulgar, violent, and unsettling i.e. just about perfect.
My highest level of praise: Gonzo
opher goodwin Added Mar 6, 2018 - 7:01pm
Heavens Burger - is this a book? You have been busy!
Even A Broken Clock Added Mar 6, 2018 - 7:08pm
Burghal, you are behind the times about West Virginia. This state went for Trump at a 68% rate in 2016, and went Republican in both houses of the legislature in 2014.
 
Vodka therapy does not sound too bad though. Not as good as Glenlivet therapy though.
Leroy Added Mar 6, 2018 - 8:01pm
"Burghal,  I'm convinced that the Mueller investigation is finding real crimes, and those crimes are coming closer and closer to the inner circle of the White House. But one thing that has never been clearly defined, what constitutes collusion?"
 
Keep in mind that collusion is not a crime.  Mueller's orders do not include investigating a crime.  He's finding crimes but nothing related to collusion with the Russians.  A special council with 17 investigators could find crime on anyone.  They could indict God.  The idea is to prove collusion and then find a crime to fit.  If there has been collusion, it is the best keep secret among the loose lips of DC.
 
I do expect Mueller to indict Trump for a crime unrelated to Russia.  If the House changes hands, Trump will be impeached, regardless of whether or not Mueller indicts him.  Just like with Clinton, the Senate will not play along, even if it changes hands.  Don't get your hopes up.
Pardero Added Mar 6, 2018 - 8:24pm
Some in the Senate will be wise enough to remember the adage, 'turnabout is fair play.'
The Burghal Hidage Added Mar 6, 2018 - 9:02pm
EABC -  Well aware of the shift in recent elections. I think it is still reasonably safe to say that the sizable majority of Mountaineers in your age group at least identify as being democrats. Whether they always vote that way or not is something else again. Joe Manchin, in many other states, would likely be a republican. At the end of the day it's all the same screw job. The only choice you get in the matter is which hole
The Burghal Hidage Added Mar 6, 2018 - 9:03pm
Pard -  Fear and loathing shrouds my keyboard
The Burghal Hidage Added Mar 6, 2018 - 9:08pm
Oph - not a book! Come on! 7500 words? What is this, Twitter?
 
You know me, old man. Just takin' the piss!  Still winding down on "the" book, but I have been considering trying to put together a collection of sorts, with this and the other Devil's Diary collection. I figure maybe 10 or 12? Wouldn't be too long...
The Burghal Hidage Added Mar 6, 2018 - 9:15pm
Leroy -  No on Trump indictment. If you're gonna shoot the king better make sure you kill him, I believe is the old adage. Right now Mueller is shooting blanks and at best he might be able to muster a .22 long. Trump has become too big a target to take down with no more than that. When Mueller figures he's played his string as far as he can they'll settle for a sacrificial scalp from someone higher up the chain. Then the grumbling will continue for years to follow. Then they'll have the knives out for the next guy. Washington playbook never changes
opher goodwin Added Mar 7, 2018 - 3:54am
Burger - a collection would be good. A dozen of those would work. You've got a lot of it already.
Stone-Eater Added Mar 7, 2018 - 9:36am
Good one ! I guess this is about the longest "article" I've read on WB......
The Burghal Hidage Added Mar 7, 2018 - 9:58am
Thanks Stone. I may have had one longer. The Two Shoemakers, I think. 
 
Hows things? I've read of some of your exploits, but not entirely caught up. I've been absent a while
Leroy Added Mar 7, 2018 - 8:18pm
"No on Trump indictment. If you're gonna shoot the king better make sure you kill him, I believe is the old adage."
 
But, payback is hell.  The House impeached Clinton, didn't they?  Turnabout is fair play.  Besides, it's a little embarrassing to have a special counsel with 17 investigators and spending millions of dollars for over a year only to come up empty-handed, don't you think?  It has to be justified somehow.
Pardero Added Mar 7, 2018 - 11:56pm
The Burghal Hidage,
This is great stuff. I never read Rules For Radicals, but you may have. Ridicule is a powerful weapon . Lib/progs have no chance if you go Gonzo on them. 
(Written at work. Nothing has blown up yet. My e-log is broken which means I can cheat like a Dem. Congressman.)
Mustafa Kemal Added Mar 9, 2018 - 1:57am
Burghal, what a joy to read. But this
"each unsteady footfall terminating in a jarring shock up the spine like the hammer game at the county fair with my head substituted for the bell. "
made me think you were being kind of like the the Wiley Coyote
The Burghal Hidage Added Mar 9, 2018 - 7:06am
My alter-ego does cut a rather cartoonish figure, I assure you :)
Glad you enjoyed it
Pardero Added Mar 9, 2018 - 1:15pm
Mustafa,
The Burghal Hidage,
I delighted in that scene, too. 
I was at the county fair with a girl, years ago. After several burly bravos had failed to ring the bell, the carnie was inclined to minimize the grumbling and lubricated the rod before I stepped up. The muscle bound group had been wandering away and missed the brief lubrication process. 
The bell rang and they turned in unison with a surprised look and then an admiring appraisal. I never lit my cigar prize but did keep it in my mouth for the duration of our tour of the fair.
Mustafa Kemal Added Mar 11, 2018 - 12:14pm
Burghal, I reread last night and enjoyed it again, very much.
But why only three cigars? 
 
I know some people who will enjoy this article  and will send it their way at the appropriate time.
 
For a while there I thought you were giving us a true insiders account.
 
Thank you
Mustafa
The Burghal Hidage Added Mar 11, 2018 - 12:18pm
True: maybe
Insider: can't comment :)
The Burghal Hidage Added Mar 11, 2018 - 12:18pm
One cigar for each victim
The Burghal Hidage Added Mar 11, 2018 - 12:20pm
Clarify: to celebrate the demise of each
The Burghal Hidage Added Mar 11, 2018 - 12:21pm
Third one he took for the road, probably savoring the last kill more than the others. The first two were just business
Mustafa Kemal Added Mar 11, 2018 - 1:08pm
Burghal, re:
"Clarify: to celebrate the demise of each"
nice touch
The Burghal Hidage Added Mar 11, 2018 - 1:20pm
Nothing says you've succeeded at triple homicide like a good Cuban cigar. When you've reached that level of killing proficiency you've graduated to a whole new strata of American society: The Beautiful People
Mustafa Kemal Added Mar 11, 2018 - 3:44pm
Burghal, something in me suspects you are not truly being sarcastic.
 
 I admire style and  panache, even if it is in pyschopaths, even if it is in psychopaths that are destroying our country, and world.
 
I am now reading about young Stalin. I must say that I admire this quality in him. He also has character.
The Burghal Hidage Added Mar 12, 2018 - 6:20am
The highway that leads from the littered fields of carnage that was the American Dream is populated by a tragic mix of characters. They are stragglers, the deaf, dumb and blind brutes that were separated from the herd. They graze upon empty calories, their hunger never sated. Each new paddock of Sow's Ear and thistles a buffet, spotty oases in a desert of abandoned hopes. It is here that we will meet the character of any legacy that remains
The Burghal Hidage Added Mar 12, 2018 - 7:43am
I am but your kinder, gentler variety of psychopath; my manic rants harm none but myself. The author assumes no responsibility for the actions of others who may become afflicted with these same psychoses

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