Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Chapter Fifteen: Purgatory

Occasionally words must serve to veil the facts. But let this happen in such a way that no one become aware of it; or, if it should be noticed, excuses must be at hand to be produced immediately.
~Niccolò Machiavelli

Edward woke up feeling almost completely healed.  The pain which had been crippling only a few hours ago was now no more than a muted ache.  He was exhausted, and knew that he still had a little ways to go, but he was no longer bleeding and his breathing had just about returned to normal.  Gretchen sat, crouched just outside the cell, with her arms wrapped around her knees.  Edward sat up to see if she was still sleeping.
“Gretchen?” he asked quietly, “Are you awake?”
“Mmm.” She replied shortly.
“You ok?”
“mhvapee” she mumbled.
“Hafta pee.” So repeated more loudly, sounding more embarrassed than annoyed.
Edward looked around.  She was locked in between two doors – the one to his cell, and the security door leading to the underground corridor – each of which had facilities on the other side of it 

“Oh, man.  I’m sorry.”
“S’OK. Just… Don’t wanna talk, OK?”
Edward could see that she was extremely distressed. “Look, if you need to… I mean… I won’t... look or anything.”  It was a weak offer but, locked in himself, there was nothing else he could think of.
“Yeah, great. Maybe after mopping up the puddle I make in the corner my boss will finally remember my name. No thanks. I’ll be OK… for a little while.”
“OK… I don’t know what time it is, but I figure they should be coming by to check on me anytime now.  Just… let me know, OK?”
“K. Thanks.”
They sat in silence for about another fifteen minutes and Gretchen was getting pretty desperate by the time they heard the electronic lock click open on the security door.  As soon as the Vice-President walked in, flanked by a pair of Secret Service Agents, she jumped up.
“Don’t leave until I get back!” she cried, running out the door.
The Vice President was shocked by her presence. “Was that Rachel? What the hell was she doing in here?!”
“Her name is Gretchen, you great buffoon.” Edward had to hide his smile as each of them nearly jumped out of their skin, clearly expecting no more than to come and collect a body.
“Jesus! You’re still alive?!”
Edward decided that, given his still weak state, malingering might be wise. “…yeah… …still alive…” he said, in an imitation of his labored breathing from yesterday. “…still… …refuse medical care… …come back… …tomorrow…”
The Vice President spoke quietly to one of the agents, who just nodded. Edward could not hear what was said, but after this went on for a few minutes, the Vice President turned back to the prisoner.  “OK, son.  You’re welcome to stay in that cell one more day.  Make no mistake though: You’re coming out of there tomorrow whether you’re alive or dead.  Got it? If you’re dead, we’ll bury you. If you’re still alive? Well… you’ll have some explaining to do.”
“…sounds… …fine to me…” he noticed that Gretchen had not yet returned. He didn’t really want to see her locked in the room again, but figured he’d stall for a little while anyway and leave the decision up to her. “…one thing… …question for you…”
“Yes?” the Vice President didn’t seem in the mood to talk, but acted as if he would humor him.
“…umm… …hang on…”
“Son, I'm a busy man, what is it?”
“…just… …one question…”
As he tapped his foot and looked at his watch, Edward tried to buy as much time as he could. Finally he said, “…never… …mind…”
“Oh, for cripes! Come on guys, we’ve got to report back!” As they walked out the door, Edward could hear the Vice President grumbling about ‘getting the weird ones’ and ‘can’t believe he’s still alive.’ And they left, revealing Gretchen, who had walked in, unnoticed again, while Edward was stalling.
“Hey,” she said quietly.
“Hey,” he answered. “Why’d you come back? They might not be back until tomorrow, you know.”
“I know. I came prepared.” She cheerily held up an apple, a banana and a water bottle. “Grabbed my purse too – so I have my phone, in case of *ahem* emergencies.
Edward just laughed.
“Well… two things. First of all: You did it again.”
“You entered a secured area, housing a prisoner, walking right by two secret service agents, unnoticed.  That’s… unbelievable!  I told you: It’s like a superpower!”
She gave a small smile, looked down and blushing as she did.
“And second, I don’t think you've thought your plan through very thoroughly.”
“Hey! I was in a bit of a hurry, you know!  I thought I did pretty well!”
“How many bars do you get down here?”
She flipped on her phone, “Oh, poop!”
Again Edward laughed. “Why’d you come back?”
“I came back… for you.”
Edward was finally able to sit up.  “Well, I really appreciate it.  I’m feeling a lot better – about 80%, I’d say – but I sure could use the company.”
“I just… I just want to do… whatever I can to help you.”
Edward studied her. There was no doubting her sincerity, but Edward felt surprised and even a bit shamed by how much she was apparently willing to endure for him.  And as he considered this inherently good and giving person, he was left with no doubt that she would be completely horrified if she ever learned of his role in what happened the night before last.  And that thought was the first one he'd had that made him feel any guilt over what had transpired.  He felt obligated to help her as well, and realized that hers was a voice that would be very different from Epiphany’s when it came to giving him council.  Although he DID have several people in mind that he wanted to recruit, he did not intend to start just yet.  All the same, the more he thought about it, the more he realized that she was EXACTLY who he was looking for.
“Gretchen… Once your tenure at the White House is over… What would you think about... coming to work for me?”
“What do you mean?”
“Let me tell you about a little job I’d like to offer you…”

Epiphany threw the chain across the motel room door and flopped down onto the bed.
In the hours after Edward left, she was in a panic.  He assured her that everything would be OK, but then told her to hide the evidence!  They had already disposed of the Hard Drive that had the original confessions and manifesto on it, as well as the Jump Drive they used to transfer the information.  But Edward was going down there himself! If he turned himself in, how long would it be before they'd be checking out his townhouse?  Then she remembered that he had left her an envelope, with instructions for what to do if he didn’t contact her by noon on Monday.  What if they arrested her?  What if they took the tablet?  The lease on her apparent ended at the end of the year, so she couldn’t go back and hide out at her old place.  That was fine. If they traced his phone records, they would show up there eventually anyway.  She had to disappear until he came back, or contacted her.  It was that simple.  And she had to get as far away from the townhouse as she could, as soon as possible.  She grabbed the Tablet, the Vial of Tears and the envelope Edward left for her, hopped into her ’98 Cavalier and drove into town.  She would get some cash, lay low at a motel until he called, and on Monday either get everything into a safe deposit box and hide the key, or open the envelope and see what to do next.
“Oh, fuck that!” she said to herself, as she pulled into the bank’s parking lot.  She tore open the envelope and opened it:

Piff – Do this if I don’t call you by noon Monday:
Open the president’s profile page and enter the following, EXACTLY as I’ve written it:
President Barack Hussein Obama will issue a full and unconditional pardon to Edward Jameson Carpenter for any and all crimes associated with the multiple deaths on December 31, 2010. He will order that the information be classified top secret.  He will provide Edward Jameson Carpenter with a copy of this pardon, order that he be released and personally escort him to the East Gate of the White House issuing orders that Edward is not to be followed.  He will then go on to live under his own direction for another 200 years.
[then hit ‘execute’]
DO NOT DO THIS until 12:Noon on Monday the 3rd!  Otherwise I will call you beforehand!
She sighed. “Crazy son of a bitch.” 

But she was keen to give Edward until the appointed time to sort this out.  Obviously he had a plan, but she was going to let him have it for not sharing it with her.  She was extremely angry for being put in this cloak-and-dagger position.  She got out and withdrew $600 from her savings account. It was the most she could take out at one time, and being that it was New Year’s Day the bank was closed, and would remain closed the next day, being Sunday.  She wondered for a moment if they’d even be open Monday, New Year’s Day having fallen over the weekend, but figured that she could cross that bridge when she came to it. Now that she had her money, she needed to find a cheap motel to crash in.  But, just as she put the car in Reverse, she realized that in her haste she’d neglected to pack any clothes, toiletries or other necessities.
“God damn it,” she muttered, realizing that she’d now have to go back to the townhouse.  
She stopped at Starbucks on her way back and got lost in thought as she drank her coffee.  She was thinking about all that had transpired, and where things might go from here and what it would take to get them there and before she knew it, almost an hour had passed.  She got a refill and headed back to the townhouse.  Pulling into the lot she noticed something odd.
Leaving out the empty spaces there were five cars parked in front of the row of townhouses: A Silver Acura, a White Lexus, A white Audi, a grey Volvo and a Black Ford Taurus... with tinted windows.  She thought that it might just be her paranoia but to her that Ford Taurus looked every bit as out of place in this neighborhood as her Chevy Cavalier did.  The tinted windows sealed the deal for her: They were already watching the house.
“No problem, girl. You can deal with this.”
She pulled in and drove slowly past the first row of cars.  It took all of her will power to avoid looking directly at the tinted front window of what she was now convinced was a government vehicle.  Keeping her eyes forward she was careful to drive by as casually as she could, just like she would do if her regular space was one of the one’s in back.  Nothing unusual at all.  There was a back exit to this lot, and their view of it would be completely blocked by the townhouses.  As long as they didn’t have another car around back, she could just pull right back out and no one would be the wiser.
Luck was one her side.  The back lot, for the second row of townhouses, was almost empty: Another Acura and an Infiniti, neither of which was occupied.  At the end of the row was another exit, back onto the main road, and as she pulled up to it she confirmed in her rearview mirror that whoever was in the Taurus would not be able to see her.  She could not see them, so they would not be able to see her.  She quickly looked around and could not see anyone on foot, so she turned back onto the main road and started to head out of town.  
Not knowing if they could have taken her plate number, or would have bothered to, but not wanting to take any chances, she avoided the Dulles Toll Road, which would have cameras at every exit point.  Instead she jumped on Route 66 and took it to Dunn Loring until she found a place to stay that looked cheap enough that it would not raise any suspicions that she would be paying in cash.
As she lay on the bed she cursed Edward while simultaneously missing him immensely.  She was strong, fiercely independant and used to being on her own; but there was no denying that she liked having him in her life. She didn’t like depending on anyone other than herself, but she found a small comfort in it knowing that she could.
“Crazy son of a bitch.” She repeated again, as she flipped on the television and settled in for a couple days of laying low, by herself. “At least I’ve got my iPhone,” she sighed.

Back at the White House, the Special Agent now assigned to investigate the New Year’s Eve deaths was giving his update to the Cabinet.
“We’ve accounted for every incoming and outgoing member of Congress, save for one: Howard Coble, from North Carolina.”
“Where does that put the total death toll then?” the President asked.
“Two Hundred and Thirty Four, Sir, including all other Government personnel and citizens. We're thinking he will be the last one.”
“And everyone else has checked in?”
“Either checked in or has been confirmed dead by members of their family or local investigators.  the Congressman is unmarried, so it's understandable that there's no one to vouch for him, and we’ve been unable to contact him by telephone.”
“Do you know where he was last seen?”
“He was in the City over at least some of the holidays.  He rents a townhouse, back on E Street.  The Landlord has already agreed to let us in to investigate the residence.”
“When will you going over there?”
“As soon as we’re done here, sir.”
“Does he fit the profile?”
“He’s a Republican, a consistently conservative voter and a member of the Tea Party Caucus. So, yes, he fits the profile very well.
“OK… Assuming that we’re going to find the worst, will this be the only time that we'll be the first ones on the scene?”
“Yes, sir.  This would be the first time.”
“Then keep your eyes open.  And please plan on reporting back first thing tomorrow.”
“Thank you, sir.”
The two agents then left and made their way to what they assumed would be the scene of another grisly death.

“So that’s what I’m looking for," Edward finishied his offer of a job to Gretchen. "Another voice, an educated and compassionate voice, to help us out in a kind of think-tank that will guide public policy for the foreseeable future.  I already know you have the ability to cope with the amount of research required, but you’re also one of the most selfless people I’ve ever met.  It’s that kind of moral foundation that I think is what's most needed.”
“And the President is going to go along with this?”
“He may. And he may not. It might not happen right away, but we’ll have time.  As much as we need, actually, which is the other part of this.  You might not believe it right away, but it’s important that you think it through, because this isn’t the kind of job you can ever quit.”
“Why’s that?”
“Because in addition to the salary I’m offering, and other forms of compensation that will come in time, I’m giving you something that comes with a great responsibility and at a great personal cost: Immortality.”
Gretchen seemed to deflate at the mention of that.
“How dare you?”
“You get my hopes up… talk to me all this time… say everything you need to make me believe in you and in the end you’re just teasing me?! Just putting me on?!”
“I’m not kidding.”
She rolled her eyes. “Then it’s even worse: You’re crazy.”
“Gretchen: How do you think I’m still alive? You saw me get shot. In the chest. Yesterday. You held my hand when I could hardly breathe, and was in too much pain to move or even sleep. How do explain that?”
“How do you explain this?” Edward sat up and pulled his shirt open. The buttons had already been torn, when the medics had initially tried to treat him, and as he drew it open Gretchen could clearly see that there remained little trace of the ostensibly fatal wound he had received just the day before.
“Oh… my…” she silently mouthed the word ‘God.’
“And that little scratch down there will be completely  gone in a day or two.  This is what I’m referring to. That and the youth you probably assume I possess, despite my actual age.”
“How… old…?” she remained stunned by the sight of his near total recovery.
“Thirty Seven.  I’m thirty-seven.”
She just looked at him, her eyes wide open and magnified greatly by the thick lenses she wore. “Serious?!”
“Always. And what's more: This is a gift that I can give you. All your genetic potential realized, and maintained indefinitely. You’ll never grow any older, you’ll never get sick and, short of complete bodily destruction, as you can see, you won’t ever die.
But there’s a catch, a cost, if you will.
Because the world will not be ready to accept our existence for quite some time, at some point ‘Gretchen Randle,’ along with ‘Edward Carpenter’ and anyone else who joins us is going to have to ‘die.’ Officially, anyway.  And go on for some time living a life that is no longer part of the ‘public record,’ so to speak.  We will be the power behind the throne. Unknown to the public.  It will be a life with very little personal glory, but great personal satisfaction.
We will fix everything that is wrong with this world.  Poverty, War, Pollution, Bigotry, Greed… All of these will be rendered obsolete under our guidance. And what little remains will be given no voice in guiding public policy.   Assuming that you can live with a life in which you no longer exist – on paper, I mean – and all the inconveniences and personal consequences that come with that, you will have a voice and a vote and an equal part in bringing this country, and eventually the entire world, into a peaceful, stable, sustainable and compassionate era that will perpetuate to the end of our days.
What do you say?”
Gretchen could barely contain her excitement, and smiled as broadly as Edward had ever seen her. “When can I start?”

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