Before turning to those moral and mental aspects of the matter which present the greatest difficulties, let the inquirer begin by mastering more elementary problems.~Sherlock Homes
The sun was setting as the pair of investigators approached the two-story, E Street brownstone. A diminutive Chinese man in his late sixties stood waiting for them on the brick and cement stairway leading up to the front door.
“You’re rate.” he said, pretending to look at his watch. He had not been there long, but there was a chill in the air, made worse by the declining daylight.
The older, veteran agent stepped forward to address the old man. “We’re sorry to keep you waiting, hopefully it hasn’t been too long. My name is Special Agent Jones, this is Agent Kim. You are Mister Lin, I presume?”
“Yes, that’s me. You wanna come in?”
“Yes sir! That’s why we’re here!” Agent Jones enthusiasm was intended to build a rapport with the old man, but it struck Agent Kim as odd, considering why they were there.
As they walked through the door, Agent Kim began looking around immediately He sniffed the air. “No smell.”
The veteran agent sighed. “The body, if there is one here, would be deceased less than 48 hours. There wouldn’t be much decomposition or odor yet, not at this temperature anyway. Can we go upstairs?”
“Yes, no probrem. You go where you need!” the old man answered.
After taking a last cursory glance around the first floor and establishing that there wasn’t a dead body lying around anywhere obvious, they started up the creaking staircase. Upon reaching the upper landing they found a short hallway with three doors – only one of them locked. Jones spent no more than a few seconds peeking in the two that weren’t.
“That’s it?” Agent Kim asked, disappointed that his partner was not being more thorough.
“Kid, we’ve got one locked door and two unlocked doors and we’re here to investigate a bizarre suicide – at a minimum. I’ll bet you my first pension check that, if there is a body here? It’s behind the one that’s looked. CSI will go over the entire place with a fine toothed comb, but if you want to satisfy your curiosity, by all means, go right ahead.” Agent Kim rolled his eyes, but decided to defer to his more experienced partner’s judgment for now. “Mister Lin?” Agent Jones called down stairs. “Do you have a key to this door?”
“That door no have key. Dead bort. Maybe chain too. Door don’t rock.”
Agent Kim raised an eyebrow in curiosity. “Why do you need a dead bolt and chain on an interior door?”
The old man shrugged. “Used to be… three difflent peopre at same time rive here. Door don’t rock, so… need dead bort.”
Agent Jones leaned in closed to Agent Kim and whispered, “To protect their plivate ploperty.”
Agent Kim snorted as he tried to keep from laughing.
“There’s nothing funny about racism, Mister!” Jones quietly snapped back to him.
“Yes, sir!” Kim answered, still trying not to laugh.
Agent Jones tried the door. Sure enough the knob turned freely but it wouldn’t open. He banged on it several times and yelled, “CONGRESSMAN COBLE? HOWARD COBLE, ARE YOU IN THERE?”
“Maybe he no home.” The old man offered.
“Then who locked the door?” Kim asked.
Jones clicked his tongue, winked and made a pistol with his hand, pointing it at Kim. “Mister Lin, do you have an issue if we break this door down?”
“Ooooooohhhh… This door antique. Old fashioned. Sorid wood. They don’t make rike this anymore!”
Jones took his wallet out. “The United States Government will offer you $500 in compensation for us breaking down your beautiful, antique door.”
“Five Hundred dorra?!” The old man snatched the money. “You bleak down all door you want!”
“Here we go!” Agent Kim said, before raising his foot and ramming it into the solid, immovable door. “Ow! Oh my God!”
Jones sighed again and shook his head. “OR… You could wait here while I go get the battering ram from the trunk?”
“Yeah, I can do that,” Kim replied weakly, bent over and now favoring his good ankle.
The old man chuckled as Agent Jones went down the stairs. “Dat’s sorid oak! With four inch steel bort! Only ting you break dat way is foot!”
Kim looked up and, still in pain, replied, “Yeah… I’ll try to remember that.”
A minute later, Agent Jones was coming back up the stairs, carrying the small battering ram. On a three count, the two men slammed it into door. After the second try, it gave way and revealed a body hunched over a desk, in front of a late 1990’s model Camcorder, propped up by a book. The old man and Agent Kim were clearly shaken by the sight.
Agent Jones took a deep breath. “OK, Mister Lin? This is now officially a crime scene. Would you have a problem vacating the premises?”
“No… No probrem… I go home… You call if you need.” He shook his head as he descended the stairs, looking back over his shoulder several times before reaching the front door and leaving.
“You OK, kid?”
Agent Kim exhaled. “Do you ever get used to that?”
Agent Jones took a deep, audible breath. “No, not really. It doesn’t affect you the same way after a while, but the day it doesn’t affect you at all? Is probably the day you should start thinking about retirement.” Kim gave a half smile and nodded. “Now go on… Don’t touch anything – leave that for the CSI’s, – but take a look and let me know what you see.”
Kim Walked in. After putting on his latex gloves, he turned on a small tape recorder in his pocket. “Body found in upstairs study of the residence of one Congressman Howard Coble, behind door locked with both sliding bolt and chain… Windows… Also locked from the inside.” He gently raised the dead man’s head from its face down position on the desk. The severe facial wound, clearly caused by a gunshot at close range, shocked him to the extent that he dropped the head. “Facial identification… Not possible. CSI can take prints and blood. Victim presumed to be Coble.” Looking to his right, Kim spotted the blood on the wall and continued. “Blood splatter… High on the wall. If victim was seated…,” he paused, “Killer would have to have been... lying down on the desk.” He looked over at Jones who nodded and made a ‘keep going’ motion with his hands. Kim scanned the desk and noticed a single piece of paper, set off to the side. He picked it up and read it aloud:
“(17) the will of the people must not be ignored.”
“All lowercase letters, and… other than the number… the only other mark is a slash towards the bottom of the page.” Kim scanned the desk again. “Ink appears dark red in color, but there’s no pen…” and then he saw the ink pen. Taking it from the well, he grabbed another sheet of paper. Despite appearing to have ink, it wrote very poorly. He inspected the ink well more closely and, after giving it a sniff, almost dropped it. He though he was going to gag. “Ink… Ink well appears… to be filled… with blood. CSI to get sample to confirm victim was source.”
That got Agent Jones’ attention, but Kim just kept going. Giving the body another looking over, he found a small, but deep laceration on the man’s forearm. On the floor below the dangling hand, he found a small utility knife, covered in blood. “Blade on floor, apparent cause of laceration on forearm. Working theory… to be confirmed… previously mentioned line appears to written in victim's own blood.” He looked back over at Agent Jones, who just nodded. “Gun… still in victim's other hand… confirm with ballistics. Ending recording, will investigate video camera.”
Agent Kim picked up the old camcorder and brought it over to Jones. “The tape is rewound,” he remarked.
“Yeah… Probably hit the end and rewound. That’s how most of these old tape-units worked. Go ahead and play it.”
They watched as the former Congressman appeared in the viewfinder. The saw him lock the door, and do a quick pan of the room, perhaps inadvertently but almost as if to establish that he was alone. He looked into the camera and started to speak, but the camera did not have sound on the playback so Agent Jones hit the Fast-Forward button. The watched him speak, at fast speed, slowing it back to normal once he stopped. They watched as he cut his forearm, letting his blood drip into the ink well. He then dipped the ink pen and wrote something, placing the piece of paper approximately where Agent Kim had found it. He then reached under the desk, producing what appeared to be the same pistol that they found in his hand. Both men winced at the sight of him pulling the trigger, splattering blood on the far wall, and then falling forward and slumping over the desk. Jones hit Fast-Forward again, but stopped it after a minute of seeing the scene unchanged.
“Hey… There might have been more!” Kim protested.
Jones gave his partner a judgmental stare. “Suicide,” he stated flatly.
“Suicide! You saw it yourself. All wounds self-inflicted, as seen on the tape. Blood splatter consistent with seated victim, shooting self. Videotape shows the entire event and, most importantly of all, no way a perpetrator could leave the room, seeing as how all doors and windows could only have been locked from inside. Kid… THIS? Is as open and shut a suicide as you are ever going to see!”
“But, sir… What about… all the others?”
Jones sighed and putting him arm around the younger agent’s shoulder, led his back into the landing at the top of the stairs. “Kid, listen to me. It is our job to collect the information and provide the most sensible interpretation of that information. Now… with what we’ve got, RIGHT HERE, what evidence do you have, RIGHT NOW, to suggest that this is anything but a suicide?”
The younger agent thought for a moment. “Motive. He doesn’t fit the profile!”
Agent Jones laughed. “Son, you are reaching! And besides: You don’t know that he doesn’t fit the suicidal profile. What’s more: Given the evidence we DO have, right here in front of us? That hardly matters! What you’ve seen could not have happened any other way, and you should be glad it IS so cut and dry.”
“What if he was being blackmailed?”
Another sigh from Agent Jones. “Why do you insist on looking for something that isn’t here?”
“How many does this make? Two Hundred and Thirty-Five?! That kind of thing…”
“…cannot possibly be blackmail!” Agent Jones interrupted. “The sheer number of victims rules that out! One person? Sure. Maybe that could happen. I doubt but... fine: it's possible. But with so many victims, it is inconceivable that not a single one of them would have come forward!”
“But, sir! I…”
Agent Jones held his hand up. “Son, what happened to Mister Coble here is that he died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound. That’s a FACT, and we simply do not have any evidence to support anything else!” Kim made no effort to hide his disappointment, but had nothing more to offer. “However… If you want to look at what might be CONNECTING all of these suicides together, you just might be in luck. My good friend, Mister Biden has confided in me that they have a man in custody who claimed to know all about what happened. And apparently, they’re going to let us speak to him tomorrow.”
“Oh my god! Why didn’t they let us see him already?!”
“Two reasons. First of all, since they figured this might be an opportunity to see what happened, first hand – and being the first set of eyes on the scene – they wanted us to come in unbiased. We’ve read all the reports of what happened at the other scenes, but they wanted us to see at least ONE, before anyone else could contaminate it, and without potentially being biased by what this man might otherwise tell us.”
“OK, yeah, that makes sense. What’s the second?”
“Oh… Apparently… One of their men – a Secret Service Agent named West… shot him in the chest at point blank range, just as they were incarcerating him.”
“Whoa. Was he resisting?”
“No. No one knows why he did it. I’ll let you read that part of the report, before I have to return it. And it’s classified so, you know… DL, OK?”
“Gotcha. So where is he now?”
“Still in the cell! Refused medical care and everything! And apparently he’s doing just fine!”
“How’s that… possible?” Kim was half convinced his partner was actually pulling his leg.
Jones laughed and shook his head. “Like I said kid: You can read the report and try to figure out for yourself what happened. Oh, and, uh… exactly what you’d like to ask him tomorrow, as well!”
And with that, the two men returned to their car, just as the Crime Scene Investigators began to arrive. They turned over jurisdiction of the house, and drove off into the cold Capital City night.
The following morning, Edward woke again to the drab walls of his cell and the concrete block room that contained it. For another night Gretchen stayed with him, talking politics, exchanging ideas about the way things ought to be and managing the occasional call of nature in such a manner as both agreed to never speak of again. Looking down as his chest, and stretching his arms out, he felt no pain at all and could see no evidence of what had happened to him. He was completely healed. He reached through the bars and gave Gretchen’s shoulder a gentle shake.
“Hmmmm? Oh my… Look at you!”
“I told you didn’t I?” he smiled back at her. “Listen… In a little while, they’re going to come down and get me. I don’t want you to worry about a thing. Go back to your job like nothing happened, OK? And don’t feel as if you need to hide anything about what we've talked about or what happened. As far getting locked in a secured area with a suspect, you’re more the victim of a crime than someone who’s committed one. Besides… good chance they won’t even notice you right?” Edward winked, but felt bad teasing her about her complete inability to stand out. While she felt embarrassed by her inability to get noticed, Edward still believed this was something that was to her huge advantage.
“Well, they might notice me missing this morning – since no one will have their coffee.”
The statement struck Edward as a total non-sequitor. “Huh?”
“Oh, I’m the ‘coffee girl.’ Every, morning on my way in, I pick up coffee and sometimes donuts or muffins for about a dozen people or so in my area. Oh, they pay me for it,” she added quickly, “but I pick it up. I offered to do it once, for just a couple of co-workers, since the coffee in the staffer’s office is basically mud, and it just sort of just… grew. Before I knew it, a dozen people or so started putting in and I’m kind of the office coffee-girl now."
“Isn’t it difficult to carry all that?”
“Sometimes, especially if it’s crowded, but I manage.”
For some reason Edward was having an incredible feeling of déjà vu, but he couldn’t put his finger on the reason why. “Well… I have a suggestion.”
“If anyone says anything, you should circulate a list and organize people to volunteer and take turns.”
“Yeah… I’ll do that,” she smiled at him.
“Anyway,” Edward began again, “back to what I was saying, they’re going to take me from this cell. They’ll have questions and they’ll need to hear what I have to say. I don’t want you to worry. And I will contact you about that job after I’ve had a chance to go home and freshen up. Change clothes,” Edward laughed, holding up the torn section of his bloodstained shirt where the bullet had left a hole. “But I WILL be coming back here. OFTEN. And I promise you that the next time I’m here, I will give you what I promised.”
“The… Tears, was it?”
“Yes. Although don't mention that to them of course,” Edward winked.
She just nodded, and they spent the rest of the early morning just sitting quietly, back to back against the bars, holding each other’s hands. Both stood up when security door clicked open, and two secret service agents came in. Each of them was visibly shocked by what they saw, and one even checked the sign outside the door, as if to confirm that they were in the right place. Finally, one of them put his hand to his ear and contacted his superior.
“Sir? Um… Subject is alive. … Yessir, alive and well. … Yessir... There’s a girl down here as well.”
Gretchen flashed her I.D.
“Gretchen Randle, sir. Card says she’s with your office.”
A minute of silence passed before Gretchen sighed and offered: “Tell him it’s ‘Rachel.’”
“Rachael, sir? … Ah! OK, very good sir. … Yes. … Yessir. … Right away, sir.”
The Agent unlocked the cell door. “You’re coming with us.”
“Oh, absolutely.” Edward replied flatly, yet smiling.
“Miss Randle? Please come with us as well and we’ll take you back to your office.”
Once they were outside of the higher security areas, Gretchen left, giving Edward a wave as she did. The first stop for Edward was at the White House’s medical office for an examination. While obviously not a fully equipped surgical area, Edward was still impressed by the office’s facilities. It did not take long for the Doctor to pronounce that he was in perfect health, and looking more like he was pushing twenty than forty. The only part that they took any significant time with, and which seemed to continue to perplex them, was the X-Ray. Edward figured they were looking for the bullet, and he was happily surprised himself to learn that couldn’t find it. His guess was that the symbiot in the Tears had simply broken it down and if he hadn’t excreted what was left of it yet, he would do so in good time; although he had no intention of telling them that.
‘Let them wonder,’ he thought to himself.
‘Let them wonder,’ he thought to himself.
After the exam, he was taken to a conference room and seated at a large table. He was surprised that he wasn’t in a more secure interrogation room, until he realized that this room had mics and cameras everywhere, and made for the perfect facility to debrief anyone who wasn’t being actively hostile. Agents were visibly posted at the door, in case he tried to flee, but Edward had no intention of fleeing or of being the slightest bit aggressive towards his jailers. In fact, there was much that he wanted to tell them. After a few minutes of waiting there by himself, two men in dark blue suits walked in, closing the door behind them. Edward was about three seats away from the entrance and noticed, as the door closed, that it was made of steel. The two men sat across the table from Edward. One was about six feet tall, white, with thinning hair and a deeply lined face that Edward guessed was in his late fifties. The other only about an inch taller than Edward, in his late twenties, and as far as Edward could guess was of Korean decent.
“Good morning,” the older one started, “We're from the Federal Bureau of Investigations. My name is Special Agent Jones, my partner is Agent Kim. We’re here because we understand you have some information regarding a series of apparent suicides that occurred two nights ago, on New Year’s Eve, 2010.” Jones made an effort to keep his voice as detached as possible, but the slightest trace of incredulousness crept through and it was not lost on Edward.
“Agent... Jones, was it? I can already see that you don’t believe much will come of this briefing, but I assure you that I DO, in fact, have much information that should be useful to you. Though I’m also sure you will have some questions that will be beyond my ability to answer.” Agent Kim rolled his eyes at that. “Perhaps, though… We might be able to explore some of your... hypotheses. Since I am in a conference room, rather than a cell, and not even shackled, can I assume that I am NOT a fact a suspect in all of this? And not under arrest?”
“Well, that depends on what you have to tell us. That being said, can I assume that you are aware of your rights? That you don’t have to tell us anything, and if you do you are allowed to have a lawyer present?”
“So I AM under arrest then?”
Agent Jones gave an indifferent frown. “No… But there’s no law that compels you to cooperate with us. I just want to make sure you know that. AND that you’re being recorded.”
“Oh, that’s all fine,” Edward answered with a smile that sent chills down the spine of Agent Kim. “There’s just so much we have to discuss. Just so we’re clear what we’re discussing… How many have been discovered?”
“Son, this is going to go a lot smoother is you let US ask the questions. So… Why don’t you start but telling us how many you believe there are?”
“My ‘belief’ is not required here, Agent Jones. If you’ve done the job completely, I know that you will have found precisely two hundered and thirty five.”
Agent Kim whistled. Agent Jones shot him a glance, clearly not happy about him having done that.
“Well, Agent Jones, either your partner is impressed by the magnitude of that prediction or at the fact that I hit directly on the nose. If I’m ever short on cash, I’ll happily invite him to our poker night. And I assume that I don’t need to tell you how to differentiate between the two hundred and thirty five people you’re looking for and any old fool that happened to become one of the last statistics of 2010?”
“Again son, why don’t you tell us what you think you know, and we’ll see if you have any useful information for us.”
Edward let out a small laugh. “I guess the Oval Office didn’t turn my original statement over to the Bureau then? Oh well. Here’s the beginning of what I know: Each victim videotaped the event. Each made a confession of their sins and wrote a numbered line on a piece of paper in their own blood before taking their own life. There were two hundred and thirty five of them and they included Judges, Politicians, Preachers, Politicos, Pundits, Propagandists and Industry Lobbyists – all tied to the Right Wing, the Republican Party and the modern Conservative Movement in America. And I can see from the stunned look on Agent Kim’s face that you’ve already seen firsthand that I’m right.
There is one question I hope you WILL answer for me, since there’s no clock in my room: What time is it?”
Agent Jones looked at his watch as Agent Kim reached into his pocket, presumably for his cell phone. “It’s 10:45 AM... On Monday the 3rd, if you’re wondering.”
“Only that I REALLY need to make a phone call. My cell phone was taken when I was shown to my room. I really need to make a call by noon.”
“Oh? Why is that?”
“Well… If you think that I’m part of some awesomely amazing thing that’s caused the death of two hundred and thirty five people, then let me say that there’s someone I need to let know I’m OK, in order to prevent something terrible from happening. And if you think I’m full of shit, then I’m just checking in with the other half to let her know I’m OK, as she’ll be worried. In the latter case, no harm can possibly be done, and – I might point out – that you have no reason to hold me, deny my request or not return my property to me. On the other hand, if you DO believe that I’m all that and a bag of chips... it’s probably wise to acquiesce to my request, don’t you think?”
Jones thought about it for a moment and figured that they might be able to learn something from the call. He looked up at on off the cameras and called out, “Bring him his phone!” Then he turned his attention back to Edward. “While we wait, why don’t we talk about you a bit. First of all – how do you come by this knowledge you have, assuming you’re not behind it all?”
“Consider it like a revelation, or an… epiphany. I woke up, on New Year’s Day, and just knew what I knew. And what’s more I knew I had to come down here and share my… insight.”
“To prevent it from ever happening again.”
“And how will you do that?”
“By making sure that the message that was sent was received, understood and heeded by those in power.”
“The message those men gave their lives to send you. You DID assemble the letters, correct? The one’s they shed their own blood to write? You have to assemble the individual lines to truly understand what’s going on here. I’m surprised you haven’t done that yet. It would explain a lot.”
Agent Jones was a bit confused. “Are you telling me that these people each contributed their own parts to a complete and coherent message?”
“Yes. A manifesto, or a... prophecy, even, if you will.”
“And you know what it says?”
“I couldn’t recite it word for word, and if you haven’t assembled the pieces yet, it wouldn’t matter if I could. But the jist of it would read like an inspired manifesto for the American Left, with equality and tolerance for all, a mandate for sustainable industry and lifestyles, the absolute separation of church and state, an end to corporate control of government, a return to a traditional democracy and the creation of a government that will truly care for all of its people and do so in such a way that is fiscally sustainable and insures economic growth, security and most importantly personal freedom for all. It spells an end to the bigotry and greed that for too long have poisoned our public discourse, and a striking down of the economic and religious dogma that drives it. In short: It calls for the end of the monstrosity that the American Right had become, and a fundamental change in how things are, to a more compassionate and responsible government with truly limited power, that represents the will of an educated and well-informed populace.”
“That’s an awful lot to know, for someone who’s not involved.”
Just then another agent walked in with Edward’s phone.
“You mind?” he asked motioning that he would make his call.
“Oh, no, you go right ahead.” Agent Jones was curious what this was all about.
Edward dialed Epiphany’s number from memory. She picked almost immediately.
Edward have turned the volume of the handset to its lowest setting, and while no one else could hear exactly what was being said, it was still obvious that whoever was on the other end of this call was frantic.
“Yes. … Yes, I’m OK, I promise. … No, everything’s fine. … No you don’t have to do anything. Why don’t you just keep that thought until say…” Edward turned his attention back to the Agents, “Hey, guys, what time do you figure I’ll be out of here?” Agent Jones just gave him an amused look, as if amazed at the audacity of the question. “Meh… Let’s say midnight OK? If I’m not home by midnight. … OK. … Yep. … OK. … Love you too. Bye.”
As Edward pushed the button to hang up the phone, he did something neither agent expected. He jumped up suddenly, and delivered a perfect varsity fastball, hurling the phone with all of his strength against the steel door. With the physical strength given to him by the previous months of the symbiots doing their work, the phone hit the door's surface and shattered into dozens of pieces. Even if the memory chip wasn't damaged beyond repair, Edward was confident that it would take them a while to figure out exactly who he'd called. The suddenness with which Edward acted, combined with the thud of the impact and the pieces flying everywhere caused the agents to practically duck under the table for cover.
“Oh, I’m sorry. Did you want to use that?” Edward sat back down. “Picking up where we left off, gentlemen, the fact is that these deaths happened simultaneously. And if you haven’t figured that out yet, you soon will. And I hardly need to point out that I can't be in two places at once, let alone two-hundred and thirty five. So it seems to me that you have three possible explanations for what's happened: One? I am the leader of a vast Left-wing conspiracy so widespread and powerful that we could not only blackmail or otherwise manipulate hundreds of people into committing a massively orchestrated series of suicides, but do so without leaving a even a trace of evidence about its existence anywhere. Second? I possess spooky magical powers and am able to psychically control people over great distances, making then do all kinds of crazy things. Now, I’m sure you’ll agree that both of those seem rather a bit farfetched, but by all means, feel free to investigate those routes.”
Edward shrugged. “It’s all just a big coincidence, I suppose.”
“Son, I don’t believe in coincidences.” Agent Jones answered wryly.
Edward studied him for a moment. “I know you don’t like me asking you questions, but let me ask you this one, Agent Jones: Do you believe in God?”
“You’re suggesting this was an act of God?”
“I’m not, but… If you really wanted to pin me down, and force me to give you my best guess? That’s the one I’d go with.”
“You seem to know so much, so why should I accept an explanation that you yourself don’t seem to believe?”
“Well… I’d believe it… We’re I not agnostic. Let’s just say that recent events have restored my faith somewhat, but that it’s just a bit much to take in, over so short a period of time. As for acts of God? That would also seem to explain… this.” Edward stood up, slowly this time, and opened his tattered, black, blood-stained shirt. “I was shot, you know. Right here,” he said, pointing to the middle of his chest, “only two days ago. Can you explain that without believing that divine forces were involved?”
“Sure I can. I talked to the Doctor who examined you: No bullet in your body. And none in your cell. We even checked the u-bend in the toilet. Nothing. So… My theory is that it’s all a hoax. You weren’t really shot. West is in on it and he fired a blank.”
“And the gallons of blood on the prison floor? You can confirm that it was mine you know.”
“I can see several ways you could manage that.”
“Really? And can any of those methods be pulled off without the use of bags, and some kind of device to open them at a precise moment , that you also would later find no trace of – even caught in the U-Bend should I have tried to flush them?” Agent Jones what at a loss to answer that. “Did that same doctor happen to leave out the detail that examined me shortly after it happened and saw – with his own eyes – the gaping, bleeding chest wound that the bullet had caused? Or… do you think HE’s in on this as well as all the paramedics who were assisting him? Agent Jones… Perhaps you would allow me to show you something else that might lead you more towards the whole 'act of God' explanation?”
“Sure, son. I’m listening.”
“Well… You’ll need to see this. I notice this conference room’s got a projection screen. If I can assume that you been collecting the blood letters left behind at each scene, and that these have all been digitized by now, perhaps you get someone in here who knows their way around a computer, and would have access to those files?”
Agent West looked back up at the camera. “You heard him. Send in the techie!”
It wasn’t long before someone who looked like a staffer from the IT department shuffled in with a laptop and a handful of cables.
“While he sets up, Agent Jones, let me ask you something else… You’ve confirmed who I am, correct?”
“Yes, we took prints when you were initially… incarcerated. Your name is Edward Carpenter, age thirty-seven and until a couple of months ago, working as an engineer with a defense contractor and holding a Secret-level Security Clearance.”
“Well… that should rule out the possibility that I’m part of some great Left-Wing conspiracy. I mean… surely the crack folks that ran that background check would have found something along those lines, no?” Edward gave a wry, lopsided grin as he said this.
Agent Jones let out a sigh. “At this time we have no reason to believe that you are part of any vast conspiracy.”
“And I certainly hope we’re not going down the ‘spooky magical powers’ path?”
A nervous laugh escaped Agent Jones. “Ah-Heh-heh. No.”
“OK, then. It’s nice to know that I’m dealing with a rational man then, in any case.” Edward then turned to the Tech, who appeared to have his equipment set up. “OK, James, is it? I’d like you to pull up each of the papers that were left by the deceased – the ones written in blood. I’d like you to then make the white backgrounds of each one transparent and then overlay them. All of them, on top of one another. Can you do that?”
“Well… that information is classified, isn’t it?” the Tech answered.
“It IS, huh? Hmmm. That was fast. Agent Jones?”
“It’s OK, son. Pull ‘em up. I’ll take responsibility.”
The work was tedious and the first couple took a while. The files were named according to the numbers on the documents, so as the tech overlaid them the agents were shocked to see it spelling out a coherent manifesto, with even the line spacing laying out appropriately and all of the notes picking up, sometimes in mid-sentence, where the previous one had left off. And even as shocking as that was, it paled in comparison to what was forming at the bottom of the page, the net sum of two hundred and thirty five slash marks, all left by different people, in different places, spread out across the entire country, at the exact same moment in time:
Watching from a closed circuit television in a neighboring conference area the Vice President was the only one not left speechless.
“Holy Mary, mother of God.”
Back in the room and admiring what only he knew was his own handiwork, Edward looked back at the two Agents. “Gentlemen? I am not one to fall for the divine fallacy. Just because something cannot be easily explained, I have never been one to immediately credit God. Or psychic powers. Or Aliens. Or the Supernatural. But I think you will agree that any more rational explanation for what you are seeing is, at a minimum, elusive. No?”
Agent Kim just nodded, unable to hide his shock. Agent Jones sounded more like someone who had just seen a really good parlor trick, but his normally jaded demeanor now appeared forced, and Edward could tell he was shaken. “Elusive, huh? And Ted Williams was a fair hitter, I suppose.”
“Yeah, understatement of the century, isn’t it? But there it is. And aside from my knowledge of what has happened, and what I believe it all means, and the fact that whatever power you want to credit for bringing this about has named me as the one to guide you through it… You have no evidence, nor even a plausible explanation linking to me to any of this. Is that about right?”
Agent Jones did his best not to look defeated, but he knew that Edward was correct. “No. I mean... Well, yes. Our official conclusion is this was a mass suicide.”
“And the notes left behind and the videos?”
“Tsk, tsk, tsk. That puts you in a very awkward position, starting with the fact that you now have absolutely no reason to keep me here, yes?”
Agent Jones just stared at him, blankly.
“Oh, you needn’t worry about me, Agent Jones. I’ll be around. And I intend to continue to cooperate with your investigation, and with the legislation that will soon be pending, as much as I possibly can. In fact, I would propose that the best solution for everyone involved might be to allow me to keep my security clearance, assign me secret service… *ahem*... protection and just see what happens. After all, I have nothing to hide and I do not plan on being a stranger. Watch me all you want. And as well, make sure that you continue to listen to what I have to say.”
Agent Jones continued to stare at him a moment longer. “I’ll see what I can do,” he answered defeatedly.
“Well… don’t take too long. Unless you plan on arresting me I am walking out of here and getting home in time for dinner. And if you DO plan on arresting me, you can consider me ‘lawyered-up,’ effective immediately. What’s more I will advise you that I have already shared my knowledge of these events with some on the outside. And in the event of my sudden disappearance they can make things fairly difficult for you to keep this under wraps, what with freedom of information act requests and any *ahem* leaks of this information that might occur. That’s not a threat, by the way, I’m just sayin’.”
Agent Jones looked ten years older than he did when the interview started. “Like I said: I’ll see what I can do.”
“Great. And while you’re at it, before I go I would like to speak to the man who shot me. Please arrange a meeting for me with Agent West.”