Monday, April 30, 2012

Chapter Twenty-Two: A Single Step

Few men desire liberty; most men wish only for a just master.”
~Gaius Sallustius Crispus

A light drizzle fell as Edward and Epiphany made their southbound journey alone Skyline Drive.  The view, breathtaking when the trees were in bloom, now resembled so many skeletal hands shambling upwards towards a weeping grey sky, blackening them with it tears.

“This is depressing,” Epiphany opined, almost laughing as she said it.
“You should see it in the Spring,” Edward answered. “The view is life-affirming.”
This time of year, travelers on this stretch of highway were relatively few, and dwindled more the farther south they went.  As they travelled, Epiphany expressed her frustration at Edward keeping her in the dark about so many things since the execution of their New Year’s Eve plan. Edward apologized for that, acknowledging that her persistence was a large part of why things have moved forward as they had.  They were on the same page with so much of what had to happen, that he felt comfortable ploughing ahead without consulting her. And for her part, she was OK with how things have worked out so far, but she did not agree with the idea of involving so many other people. And she particularly did not care for Edward’s choices so far: She didn’t trust West, and she had no respect for the mousy Gretchen at all.
“But that what makes them such perfect choices.” Edward explained.
“How’s that?” She asked incredulously.
“What would be the point of recruiting a bunch of people who all agreed with each other, or with me, to give me advice and keep me informed of how things are going?
The fact that you don’t trust West? Works out perfectly. It protects me in case I start trusting him too much, or if my trust in him, or his friends, is misplaced.”
Epiphany sighed in concession to the reasoning, if not the point.
“As for Gretchen… You two are just oil and water. I realize that. And I’ll be honest: If it had been her voice advising me all this time? I’ll bet you anything we’d still just be TALKING about it.  If you’ll excuse an engineering analogy, you’re like the gas pedal and she’s like the brake. And you won’t get very far without both.”
Epiphany wasn’t sure she appreciated that analogy. “And WHY, pray tell, do you think I need the brakes put on me?!”
Edward knew he had to answer this very carefully, or it would make for a very long trip.
“Who said anything about putting the brakes on you?” Edward smiled. “I’M the one who would need the brakes put on him. And the day YOU are acting to restrain ME? Hoo-boy, we’ll all be in trouble then!”
Epiphany just laughed and shook her head. All was right with the world again.
After a couple of hours, as the scenery started to change, the clouds began to break and the conversation dwindled, Edward’s phone rang.  It was Bob Anderson, the former Corporate Counsel to the North American Division of News Corporation and consequently now Edward’s own legal advisor.  Edward put him on speaker.

“Bob! How have you been! Clever thing you did their, by the way! 'E. Jameson Carpenter.' That bought me just the amount of time I needed to stay ahead of the press.  I wanted to thank you for that.”
On the other side of the line, the lawyer’s consternation was apparent in his terse tone. “Not a problem, Mister Carpenter. Where are you?”
Edward looked around. “No idea, Bob. Northern Appalachians, I think. Or… Blue Ridge? Not sure.”
Several seconds of silence followed. “Why the hell…? Never mind! You’ve got to book a flight for New York, as soon as possible. You are facing a huge legal rebellion from the minority shareholders at News Corp.”
“You did as I’ve asked, and started the procedings for liquidation?”
“Yes! And now everyone wants my head for it! Ed, this isn’t going to stand up in court. A majority stake – even a super-majority stake – doesn’t give you absolute power here!”
Edward briefly glanced down at the Tablet, wedged between his seat and the vehicle’s center console. “No, it doesn’t.”
“So what do you intend to do?”
“Bob, all I need from you is two things. First, move to consolidate all of the complaints into as few individual suits as possible. ONE would be ideal.”
“That shouldn’t be problem, seeing as how they’re just trying to get an injunction against you and the liquidation proceedings. As it is, it’s pretty much just the one suit right now.”
“Great. The other thing I need is the name of the judge who'll be presiding over the case.” Edward could have sworn he caught a smile from Epiphany as he said this.
“Okaaaay… Why?
“Because I need to know. Just get me the name! That's not too much to ask, is it?”
“Not at all. The case has already been assigned to Justice Jefferson Boggs.”
“Jefferson Boggs, huh? What can you tell me about him?” Epiphany snatched the tablet and was already pulling up his page.
“Conservative. Good business sense. Tends to respect precedent in corporate matters. Likes his Scotch.”
“OK, that’s great. Don’t worry about it. You’ll win.”
“I’ll win?”
“Yes. I guarantee it. Don’t slack off on this or anything, but don’t go crazy over it either. Put together the best case you reasonably can all things considered and I guarantee you’ll win.”
“Don’t worry about that. And, no: I’m not going to bribe, threaten or blackmail him or anything illegal, if you’re worried about that.” But Edward couldn’t escape his next thought of, ‘No, all I’m going to do is rob him of his free will.’
“And when can I expect you in New York?”
“When hell freezes over. I hate New York.”
“Edward, that is NOT going to work, I need you HERE to…”
“YOU NEED to do as I’ve instructed! Put together the best case you can, making only a modest effort - just good enough so that Judge Boggs can avoid conspiracy accusations – and you’ll win. OK?”
“No, it’s NOT OK, but... *sigh* Fine. I’ll do as you ask.”
“Great.  Hey, there’s something else I’d like you to help me out with. Can you draw up some paperwork for an LLC that we could park a rather large amount of money and assets into?”
“Do I even want to know?”
“You’ll probably have to, considering that it’s mostly cashier’s check for, quite frankly, STUPID amounts of money that a whole bunch of pundits, politicians and politicos sent me just before they all committed suicide.”
“You’re going to be the death of me, Carpenter.”
“I solemnly promise you that I will not.” Epiphany laughed at this, still holding the Tablet on her lap, Jefferson Boggs’ Fate profile still lighting up the screen.
Anderson sighed. “Yeah, I’ll get the paperwork started. Any idea what you want to call it?”
“I don’t know. Is ‘Avalon’ available?”
“I’ll look into it.”
“Great, thanks. Keep me apprised of how everything goes.”
And as soon as he hung up the phone, Edward hit the brakes, hard, pulled onto the gravel shoulder, took the tablet from Epiphany, and began to type.
“What are you doing?! You’re not going to kill him, are you?”
“Of course not, why would I do that? I’m just making sure that he will never rule against me in any matter that comes into his courtroom, nor every support any action being taken against me.”
“Whoa. OK… Remember when you said you’d be worried when I finally became the one acting like the brakes? That was only an hour ago and I’m already saying, ‘slow down.’ Won’t that potentially cause a lot screwy precedents that OTHER PEOPLE, who AREN’T supposed to be fixing all the world’s problems, will take advantage of?”
“Good thinking, but it won’t happen. I’ve already got that covered.”
“Any decision that goes against his normal judgment, or established precedent will be made ‘in consideration of, and be limited, to the present circumstances.’”
A distant look crept over Epiphany’s face. “What... Does does that mean? And… Where have I heard it before…?” she asked, knitting her brow.
“It means, 'this decision is arbitrary bullshit, and probably corrupt, so don’t use it as precedent.' And you’ve probably heard of it because it was applied to the majority decision in Bush v. Gore.” 
Epiphany laughed at the idea that a concept coming from the Right’s own judicial corruption was now being used against them in such a bold manner.  Edward pressed ‘execute’ and tucked the Tablet back into the crevice it had occupied previously and pulled back onto the road.
By midday, Epiphany had taken over the driving while Edward tried to find a motel along their route.  As he searched Google maps and made mental notes of which towns they might be able to reach tonight his phone rang again. It was West.
“This is Eddie.”
“Ed, West. Listen, I’ve got the names of your two tails.”
“Secret  Service?”
“Yep. Which is good, because as tight a lid as they have on this, it would have been impossible to find them if they’d come from any other agency.”
“So… this doesn’t preclude the possibility that there ARE, in fact, other agencies keeping an eye on us?”
West sighed. “No, but this is all I can find, without attracting way too much attention.”
“No, don’t do that.  This is perfect. Who you got?”
“Michael Boreman and Tyrone Bigsby.”
“Let me guess – one white guy, one black guy?”
“You got it.”
“Black Ford Taurus?”
“What, can you SEE them?”
Edward laughed. “No, no. I’m just wondering if you guys use any other cars.”
West sighed. “Yes, it will likely be a black, mid-level, possibly higher-end sedan of some kind, yes.”
“SHOULD I be able to see them?”
“Probably not. They’re likely following a few miles behind you.”
Considering the hills, and the curves in the road, Edward didn’t see how that would be possible. “How can they do that?”
“GPS Tracking device.”
“Aaaahhhh… Gotcha.  Well, thanks, I think we can deal with that then. And don’t worry: I don’t plan on doing anything about them.” Edward’s emphasis made it clear that he was referring to the Tablet.
West seemed to breathe a sigh of relief. “Well that’s good.  So I guess that’s it, then. Take care…”
“Hang on a sec, West. There is one other thing I didn’t get a chance to discuss with you earlier.”
“Yeah, what’s that?”
“I don’t know if you can help me with this or not, but I figured I should ask. Maybe you know someone.  The day we left, the press was just starting to camp out on my front lawn. I want to get ALL of us into a situation where we can maintain our anonymity; Kind of a witness-protection type thing, except even more so.  As if we were to truly disappear. Money’s not an issue, I just need to know what options there are, in terms of new identities, while possibly keeping our old ones for a while, where we could live, that sort of thing.  And yet, while there are some people who I want to know WHO I am, at the same time, I don’t necessarily want them to know where to find me. Does that make sense?”
“Well… yeah. Sort of. It’s a pretty tall order, but let me kick it around, OK?”
“That’s all I’m asking. How are things going otherwise?”
“Nothing to report.”
“All right then. Take care of yourself, West.”
Edward hung up and thought about the situation. Foremost on his mind was the two agents that were supposedly tailing him in a black, but otherwise nondescript government vehicle.
“You hungry?” he asked, turning to Epiphany.
She just shrugged. They no longer really got hungry on a daily basis as they did when they were mortal, but still ate, as much for the enjoyment of it as out of habit.  Edward pointed at a service path up ahead, crossing the median to the northbound side of the highway.
“Turn in there. Bang a ewey.”
There were no cops around, but Epiphany was not aware that what she was doing was illegal anyway.  The dirt path was smooth and well-maintained and in a few moments they were heading north bound again.
“Now floor it.”
After some load protestations from the engine, they were soon sailing back along there track at just over ninety miles an hour.
“WHY AM I DOING THIS?!” Epiphany asked, a little too loudly to hide her nervousness.
“West said our tails would be about a mile or two behind us, using a GPS tracker to follow us.”
“AND… I want to double back, and hit the previous one of those service paths, crossing back over before they get to it. Considering out current speed, we should be hitting one in the next twenty seconds or so.  Assuming they’re still going sixty-five, seventy, they should catch up to us ten, twenty seconds later. You know… like when a train leaves Chicago travelling…”
“There! There! Turn there!”
Epiphany nearly spun the car out trying to slow it down and make the sudden turn on the service path. Once she was Southbound again Edward told her to stop and pull over.
“WHAT ARE WE DOING?!” Epiphany screamed, clearly shaken by their hypothetical brush with death just then.
“I’m going to ask them if they’d like to join us for lunch.” Edward answered, smiling as her stunned and silent response. “Michael Boreman and Tyrone Bigsby, by the way. If you’re interested.” Edward was out of the car before Epiphany recovered from her shock and, rather than argue the inevitable at this point, she just picked up the Tablet, entered their names, and watched.
Just over a mile behind them, Agents Boreman and Bigsby were confused.
“Oh, what the hell? What the hell? What the hell?” Agent Bigbsy asked rhetorically from the passenger seat, looking down at his display.
“Talk to my, Ty. What’s goin’ on?” Agent Boreman asks in a calm, Texas drawl.
“Target just turned around. Now going North at… a high rate of speed.”
“Well that’s no problem we’ll give some slack in the leash and do the same.”
“Wait! Oh Shit!”
“He’s crossing over again! Crap he’ll be right in front of us!” Bigbsy looked up and could already see Edward’s car on the shoulder up ahead, with Edward standing next it, looking right at them.
“Aw, shee-it. We’ve been made.”
“Yeah buddy. What you gonna do hoss?”
“Drive on by?”
But Edward wouldn’t be having any of that. He calmly stepped into the middle of the lane, raised both palms to about shoulder height, and moved them in a downward motion as if to tell the oncoming car to slow down and pull over.
“What’s he doin’?” Bigsby asked.
“He’s pulling us over.”
“As a heart attack.”
“So what you gonna’ do?!”
“Pull over.”
“What?! Why?!”
“No choice now, we’re already spotted. Might as well see what’ll happen next.”
Agent Boreman slowly pulled the Black Lincoln Continental onto the shoulder.  Edward walked over and rapped on the window.  Boreman pressed the switch and lowered it.
“Good afternoon, gentleman!” Edward said with an incredibly amused, and self-satisfied grim on his face.  Boreman and Bigsby just looked at each other, and then Boreman return his focus to Edward.
“So, uh… Listen: The missus and I were planning on stopping for Lunch in the next town. Getting a bit hungry, I guess. We, uh… were wondering if you’d care to join us?” Again the two men looked at each other, before Boreman returned to looking at Edward.
“Why do you guys keep looking at each other?  Look, it’s a simple question: Lunch – interested?”
Again, nothing but silence from the two men.
Edward dropped the grin, and adopted a more serious, respectful demeanor. He leaned onto the door, his face now beyond the plane where the window had been. “OK, look. I knew they’d be sending someone, OK? And I’m not trying to lose you, nor am I trying to get you into trouble. If I wasn’t supposed to see you? Fine: I never saw you.  And why would I want to lose you anyway? If you’re keeping an eye on me, I assume part of that would mean making sure I don’t get myself killed, right?”
“We’re under no special instructions to protect you, son” Agent Boreman answered.
Edward hopped up. “So he CAN speak!” Boreman rolled his eyes and Edward bent back down to his previous, more personal, and more intimate posture.  “Well, whatever. Tell you what: I’ll even have the waitress give us separate bills. I’ll PAY, but your boss need never know about it, and you can even double dip on the expense report – getting reimbursed for a meal you didn’t pay for.”
Agent Boreman did not look amused.
Edward continued. “Look. I’m sorry. But you’re made. Too late now to do anything about that. But this is going to be a LONG trip. And if you’re meant to tail us, wouldn’t it be helpful to get to know us a bit? Whatever, man. I tried. We’ll be dining at the next exit, assuming there’s a good greasy spoon there or something. You’re welcome to join us, or not. I couldn’t care less.”
Boreman just sat in silence as Edward went back to his car, switching seats with Epiphany, and driving for the next forty-five minutes before they found a town that looked promising.
“I kind of feel sorry for them.” Epiphany offered,
“They only have about eighteen months to live.”
“Huh? Let me see that!” Epiphany handed the Tablet to Edward and he noticed strait away that the desktop traffic lights were Yellow (for Edward) and Red (for Humanity.) “At the moment, so do we all, sweetheart. We’ve got to get things moving!”
Lunch and Dinner were both awkward, as the two Agents refused to dine with their quarry, but opted instead to sit two tables away from them, with the burly Texan glaring at them the entire time.  That night Edward decided to mess with them some more, making sure he got the room next to theirs, going so far as to say "good night" to Agent Bigsby when the two entered their adjoining rooms at the same time, and then making sure they could hear Epiphany's screams of passion through the cheap, thin walls as they made love that night like two married adulterers hooking up in a sleazy roadside hotel room. 
Edward was up before five the next day, and figured on having some more fun with his handlers.  Getting down on his hand and knees behind his car, he spotted something stuck to the undercarriage, just above the tail pipe, that didn't look 'factory installed.' Sure enough, with a mighty tug, the Government's tracking  device came loose, having been held in place by a powerful magnet.  Scanning the parking lot, he saw a car nearby with North Dakota license plates.
"Let's hope they're on their way home," Edward chuckled to himself, before bending over and placing the device on their car, approximately where it had been on his. The strength of the magnet surprised him, and almost pinched the skin on his fingers. After he was done he went back upstairs and just hung out on the walkway, watching for the sunrise.
About fifteen minutes later, an older couple that had staying downstairs went to the front office to check out. Then they got into the car from North Dakota. Edward could hardly contain his laughter.  About a minute after they pulled out, the door to the room next to Edward's flew open, and a very nervous, disheveled-looking Agent Boreman jumped out, carrying a hastily packed suit-case. His shirt was only half-way buttoned and one show remained untied.
"Going somewhere?" Edward asked him, nonchalantly.
"Your girl still here?!" Boreman asked tersely.
"God Dammit, Biggs!” the huge man bellowed back into his room. “I though you said they were on the move!"
"This wouldn't have anything to do with that little device I found under my car, would it?"
"WHAT?!" Boreman's face was red, his eyes bulging.
"You know... about yay big, three green lights, lit up, one red one, unlit?"
Boreman smirked and looked away from him, towards the horizon where the first evidence of morning light was just starting to spill over. "Uh-huh. And, uh... where is that device now?"
"Well, judging form the license plate, I'd say it on its way to North Dakota." Edward couldn't hold in his laughter as he said this.
Boreman just smirked and shook his head.  "And you don't think you'll be in a bit of trouble for that?"
"Why? I didn't know what it was for sure until you confirmed it just now. Based on your mad dash just now, I'm assuming it's some manner of tracking device?  Well... in that case, it shouldn't be too hard for y'all to find then, right? I mean… I'm sure you know EXACTLY where it is at any given time, no?  And... I guess you'll have to follow us the old fashioned way now, yes? Maybe you'll rethink my invite to lunch next time. You'll uh... need to stay as close to us as you possibly can, after all."
"I could arrest you over this you know." Boreman said, still staring straight ahead, not looking at Edward.
"I'm sure you could. But you won't.” Edward paused a minute before adding, “Better get ready, we're heading out in thirty minutes."
For the remainder of the trip, Edward could see their Black Continental clearly in his rear-view mirror.  And the Agents even started joining Edward and Epiphany for meals. Boreman and Bigsby both had a lot of interesting stories to tell, mostly from their work, and as they got to know Edward and Epiphany better, they began to trust them more and more. And while Boreman never got as far as actually liking him, Edward was good to his word that would not try to lose them, or pull any more of the shenanigans that they had done up until this point.  It never got to the point where they would be considered friends, and Edward had no intention of trying to bring them into the inner circle he was forming, but he figured that if any orders did come across to kill them, there might be just enough hesitation on their part  for Edward to act within, on account of the agents having gotten to know them on a more personal level.
As they crossed over the border from South Carolina to Georgia, Edward fingered the number for John Rydell: One of them men he planned to share power with, and grant immortality to, whom he had never even met.
"John? It's Eddie."
"Oh wow man! How you doin'? I didn't think you were going to make it!"
"Doing good, my friend. We should be in Atlanta fairly late tonight. Meet you for lunch tomorrow, like we discussed in the emails?"
"Yeah, sounds good. I know the perfect place. I'll send you address."
"All right, dude. I'll see you there!"
Edward hung up. Epiphany drove for a few more hours until signs for Atlanta started cropping up along the highway.  When they got there, Edward was hoping the world would soon have another immortal being in it.
After finding the roadside Barbecue place just outside of town that John had recommended, Edward pulled the Agents aside in the parking lot.
"Hey, uh... This one's still on me guys, but... I'll need you to sit by yourselves today.  We're meeting up with a friend and he might be a little on edge, seeing you two with us."
Bigbsy seemed the slightest bit disappointed (Edward could swear he was developing a thing for Epiphany) but Boreman responded in his typically gruff, all-business manner. "Whatever. We've been way too cavalier about fraternizing with you two on this trip already."
Inside, they waited for the man they had never met that Edward hoped would join them in saving the world, and in immortality.  When he arrived, it was John who figured out who Edward and Epiphany were. Edward looked up at the man who he known for years, and yet was meeting for the first time.  He was tall, taller than Edward anyway, and lean.  His hair, which was just starting to show some gray, was worn long.  His face was young looking for a man who was several years older than Edward and, were it not for the effects that the Tears had on him, Edward would no doubt have looked much the older of the two.
"It a pleasure to finally meet you in person, Southpaw." Edward offered him a chair, smiling and referring to his Internet handle - the only name he had known him by until very recently.
After an awkward moment of introductions and 'getting to know' stuff, it did not take long for the three of them to start talking politics. John's blog was already very familiar to Edward and Epiphany, and both of their blogs, though now defunct, had been read by John from time to time.  It was obvious that John was both more Liberal, and more idealistic, than either of them, though years of disappointment also nurtured a strong cynicism within him. All the same, there was almost nothing about his overall world view that both Edward and Epiphany didn’t find completely admirable. The biggest difference seemed to how be John's principled idealism contrasted with Epiphany's more Machiavellian approach to problem solving.  Which was good, Edward thought. John was exactly the person Edward was looking for.
"So what's this all about anyway?" John finally asked. "This trip down here...  You said it business?"
"Well... yeah.  But not in the way you might think.  See... thing is, I'm looking for someone to fill a certain... position in my organization.  I'd like you to consider it, actually."
"An organization that does... what, exactly?"
"Think of it like a sort of think-tank. One that will have the President's ear, and many ears in Congress. One that will shape foreign, domestic, social, economic and environmental policy for... well, for many years into the future, let's leave it at that."
The look on John's face clearly said that he wasn't buying it.
"Hey: It still a job offer. What are you doing now?"
"I'm, uh... between jobs at the moment. Victim of the Obama's economy, I guess."
"Don't you mean the Bush economy?" Edward asked, smiling.
"Is there a difference?" John answered, not.
"OK... Let's not get off topic here. To show you this is legit, and that I'm dead serious about it, here's what I'm proposing. I will fly you to Washington.  I'll put you up at a five-star hotel. All expenses paid. And for my first trick, I'll take you to the White House and show you all the classified evidence of what REALLY happened on New Years' Eve."
That caught John off guard.  "Seriously?!"
"Oh, yeah. And believe me: Truth is stranger than fiction this time. Then I'm going to show you another thing or two that will blow your mind, like the manifesto these men left behind and maybe some video of me getting shot after confronting the President." Edward smiled broadly at that last bit.
"Wha... Shot?!"
"Right here." Edward said, tapping his chest.
"You will hardly be the first person to say that, but I'll show you the evidence. And after it all, I'll pitch the the actual job. Salary, benefits, bonuses... the whole nine yards."
John went silent as he considered what he'd been told.
"Look... Worst case? It's all a hoax and I'm full of shit. You'll still get a free trip to D.C. out of it. I'll have my people call you.  And if you have any doubts? See the two guys over there, in the charcoal grey suits and the sunglasses?"
"Yeah. Who are they? The men in black?"
Edward laughed. "Secret  Service. Ask them if you like, but watch: They're going to get up and leave as soon as we do."
As Edward went to pay the tab, Epiphany went into the Ladies room after telling John that it was 'nice to meet him.' Then John just watched as the two of them left. And sure enough, just as Edward had predicted, the men in dark suits got up to leave immediately afterwards. And while he couldn't read them, John did notice the badges, and the guns, on the men's belts.  If they weren't Government men of some kind, then they sure were doing a fine job of looking like it.
He sat back and slowly finished his last rib.  Taking a long pull from his Iced Tea, he decided that if Edward's 'people' DID call him, that he'd go. He didn't expect much to come of it, but it wasn't like he had anything better to do at the moment, and it seemed way too elaborate for a con. If they wanted to actually harm him, there were easier ways, and he had far too little money to be worth robbing or scamming.  And a couple of nights in a five-star hotel? 
That sounded pretty good right about now.

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