Saturday, August 11, 2012

Chapter Twenty Five: Home Again

"As we express our gratitude, we must never forget that the highest appreciation is not to utter words, but to live by them."

~John F. Kennedy

Edward gave his Secret Service handlers a final, parting shot before heading home.  Without letting them know, they sold Epiphany’s car are the first dealership that would take it, took a cab to the airport and flew home that night, paying cash for two tickets on the Red-Eye back to D.C. He almost felt bad not at least saying “Good bye,” but the image of Agent Boreman’s slumped posture and frustrated smirk as he shook his head at having been given the slip was to mush to resist.  Edward figured he’d understand.
Touching down early the next morning in Dulles, the two travelers were greeted by snow flurries and colder temperatures than when they’d left.
“Could use a little global warming, right about now!” Epiphany whined.
“Oh, behave.” Edward answered, wryly.  It was only a few minutes before West arrived up in a black Cadillac.
As they drove back towards the city along the Toll Road, Edward told West about the three men they had met with, and that he was optimistic that they might actually might the trip in.  West let Edward know that Gretchen had found a Congressman to sponsor and champion his proposal for a National Health Care System.
“I also have an idea about the other thing you asked me about.  A place where you and the rest of everyone might be able to live, off the grid.”
“Oh? Do tell.”
“There’s this parcel of land just outside of Manassas.  Back in the late 1980’s the first Bush Administration was developing it as an alternative secure location to the Greenbrier Hotel.”
“Which is closed now, right?”
“Well… It’s a tourist attraction, if that’s what you mean. It’s no longer Congress’ official Nuclear Bunker.”
“So what’s out there? …In Manassas, I mean.”
“It’s about 60 acres, give or take, with about a dozen or so large, cement block homes on it.  They’ve got two levels of finished basement underground, and bomb shelters attached to THAT.  The Windows are bullet-proof glass, and the entrance ways are all made of reinforced steel.  And yet… To the casual observer they looks like ordinary homes, right down to the vinyl siding and faux-brick fronts that cover them.  Inside… they might need a LITTLE work, but they’ll clean nicely. They were even partially furnished, before they pulled the plug on the project.”
“Cold War ended. After that, there was no need for it. And then Bush was voted out, and the Clinton/Gore team had other plans. And that’s what makes this so interesting.”
“Why’s that?”
“Well… Since the property wasn’t going to be used as a de facto bomb shelter anymore, it was contracted out to several groups of scientists who used it to develop alternative energy and sustainable living projects.  So the whole place is wired up with Solar Panels and Wind Turbines – mostly hidden away, out of sight – which charge the batteries that provide the whole complex with power.  The houses are also super-efficient, so these provide heat as well.  There’s an artesian well underneath to provide water, and the sewage lines , after going through a series of several of processing tanks, empty out into a distant swamp, that itself is on government land. It’s as off the grid as you can get.”
“Okaaaay… it sounds perfect.  But what’s it being used for these days?”
“Nothing,” he paused, changing lanes. “Environmental projects didn’t rank very high on the list of priorities in the second Bush administration. So funding was pulled, and it basically sat idle for eight years.  Now it’s long forgotten - just another asset being tracked by the Interior as nothing more than a parcel number in a database.”
“Are you suggesting we squat on it?”
“Not at all,” he started, before having to pause to avoid another driver who drifted into him lane. “The thing is, many of these unused parcels are sold off, from time to time, for economic development and/or to raise revenue. In this case, if someone very to make a bid offer of BOOK Value…”
“Which would presumably be a bit higher that current MARKET value, given the conditions of the real estate market, correct?”
“That’s what will make this fly under the radar. Given how many deals there are right now, every time someone works out what might be perceived as a particularly sweet one, it gets the ninth degree to make sure there are no shenanigans going on.  But a case of someone offering exactly what it’s over-valued at? There are a lot of people who would happily rubber-stamp that kind of thing. Turns an overpriced piece of land that’s just burning a hole in hole in our country’s balance sheet into much needed cash, not to mention a potential revenue stream for whatever State it’s in, and it doesn’t even change the value of the ledger.”
Edward considered this for a moment. “What about communications?”
West laughed. “Couldn’t be better:  there’s a major cell tower not too far off of the far end of the property. Five bars and 3G.  And the Scientists back in the 90’s even ran a T-1 line onto it.  I doubt that still works, but if it was done once, there’s no reason it couldn’t be done again.  It’s perfect, really, if I do say so myself. And most of the folks down at Interior don’t even know what they’ve got there!”
“What’s the catch?”
“Cost and location.”
“I’m sure cost won’t be an issue. And the remote location is actually as asset in this case. How you find out about this?”
West smiled. “I know people.”
Edward shook his head. “Well, they came through for us again.  Get the ball rolling and I’ll hook you up with the funding as soon as Anderson gets the LLC setup.  The land can be held by that, rather than in our names directly.”
“No problem. I’ll take care of it.”
“Thanks, West. Anything else happen while we were gone?”
A somber look crept over West’s face. “The Major took a fast turn for the worst.  He’s dying. Soon, I mean. And you…”
“Yes. I promised I’d save him. How long?”
“In all seriousness?  A day or two. Maybe hours. I think he’s holding on for the hope you gave him. It all went downhill a pretty fast after that night at the Lincoln...”
“When he saved me. Where is he now?”
“Walter Reed.”
“Do you have the vial?”
“I picked it up this morning, like we talked about on the phone.”
“Let’s go then.”
As the three of them stood by Jason Northville’s bedside, West feared that they were already too late.   He was relieved to hear the regular tone of the EKG machine, but knew a slow heartbeat when he heard one.  Epiphany held back, standing silently, perhaps reminded too much of her Grandmother’s final moments. Edward just studied the face of the sleeping man.
“West, tell me… Before I do this, I need to hear you say it: Is he a good man?”
“I don’t know what you consider, ‘good’ but…”
“Can you trust him?”
“I’ve trusted him with my life, countless times. And I have never known him to treat any lives – even those of his enemies – carelessly. He was a soldier, so yes, he’s killed. We all have.”
I have.” Edward admitted.
“But as soldiers go, he’s killed less than I think many other would have in similar situations.”
“Good enough.  He’s got plans? To cover his tracks I mean? I wouldn’t want them to find a strapping young man here tomorrow where the old soldier lay, fading away, just the night before.”
West nodded. “Most  ex-CIA do, just in case they need to disappear for a while. How long will it take?”
Looking at the withered body before them, Edward was hard pressed to see the strapping yet surly Commando in West’s old photograph.  “There’s a lot of damage to repair, but there’s no reason to think it won’t work.  He probably won’t be 100%, right away but he should be able to walk out of here by the morning.”
Edward drew the stopper from the vial and looked down at the man who had saved his life. 
“West: Open his mouth, would ya?” he asked quietly.
West parted his lips and Edward gently touched the stopper against his tongue, depositing a single tear.
“How’s he planning to get out of here?”
West winked. “Never underestimate the cunning of the Major or the disorganization of bureaucrats.”
The next morning, there would be a flurry of activity as the morning rounds searched for any record of the patient that was in room 303.
The President sat alone at his desk, staring at a list:
Judge Diane Wood
Judge Stephen Reinhardt
Professor Laurence Tribe
Professor Kathleen Sullivan
Judge Merrick Garland
Judge Thomas Saenz
Professor Diane Strossen
Judge Martha Minnow
Judge Godwin Liu
Judge Sidney Thomas

And several more before putting it back on his desk, just as his Chief of Staff walked in and sat down.
“Something wrong, Mister President?”
He just shook his head. “I’m looking at a list of perfectly qualified candidates to fill the four vacancies on the Supreme Court.”
“Well that’s great!  What’s the problem?”
“It’s not MY list.  There’s nothing wrong with any of these choices, and a few of them WOULD have been on my short list…”
“So… go with those.”
“Only three. Not enough.”
“So you don’t think this guy, Carpenter  will be satisfied with three out of four? And why do you care anyway?”
“Pete, I saw him get shot.  Right in front of me.  At point blank range. A few days later, it was like it never happened. We tried to get rid of him, and…”
“And you had a change of heart.”
“NO!” the President slammed his hand on the desk, in an uncharacteristic show of frustration. “No, I didn’t. I didn’t’ LIKE the idea, but I did feel it was necessary.”
“Because he’s dangerous?”
“Yeah. I don’t believe for a second that he’s unconnected to those New Year’s deaths. Not at all. And a man who can do all THAT? And survive what he did? And… make things change like he did…”
“So he’s to take things over then?”
“That’s just it. No. No, he can’t. I can’t let that happen. And yet... And yet…”
“Mister President, I think you need to look at this a little differently.”
The President looked at his longtime confidant and shrugged.
“So far, all he’s done is given you a list of Supreme Court nominees that you just said were all qualified, and wants to push a single payer health care plan.”
“And campaign finance reform,” he answered, glancing at the binder at the edge of his desk.
“So? None of these are mutually exclusive with any of your legislative priorities.  So unless you think these proposals are BAD…?”
“No. There’s nothing wrong with them at all. That’s the thing. I have to admit: There are some fairly good ideas in there.”
“Then give him what he’s asking for!”
The President just looked indignant.
“But USE him as an asset.  If he’s everything you think he is? It seems to me he can be a powerful ally. And besides: Don’t you WANT to keep him close? DO you REALLY want to risk marginalizing him?  Keep him on hand. Let him have his fun, but get something out if it in return. You never know. This could work out for everyone.”
“He’s a killer. Or do you not think he did it?”
The rotund advisor shrugged. “Personally I don’t see how he could have.  And if you remember, I was against the execution order. But you seem hard pressed to dismiss the possibility out of hand, so…  if three of his choice judges were on your list anyway, just throw in the best fourth pick you can stomach and see what happens.  Keep your friends close…”
“…And your enemies closer.  I get it.” 
But as the President poured over the list for the hundredth time, genuinely fearing what might happen if someone NOT on the list happened to get confirmed, his thoughts were dominated by the notion that his authority was being usurped.
Not wanting to return to the townhouse, Edward and Epiphany took a room in the Hilton, downtown. Walking out into the chilled January air the next morning, they saw a familiar black Cadillac pull up to the lobby doors. When they approached it, however, they saw that West was not driving it.  It took Edward a moment to figure out who the driver was.
The window rolled down, “Give West my regards, would you?”
“I certainly will, Major.”
“Shhh! None of that now. Just ‘North,’ OK? Jim North.”
“North then. You look good. Better anyway.”
The man who looked more like Rip Torn the night before was beginning to resemble a young Jack Nicholson, only with jet-black hair. His blue hospital gown was traded for an older-styled black suit, with a white shirt and black tie. Edward wondered if he would have buried in that suit. As the man took of his Wayfairers, Edward could still find traces of age, and the last remnants of the ravages done by cancer and war, but they were fading.  “Kid, I feel like a new man, now. Indestructible.”
“You just about are, but don’t go too far in testing it. Do you plan to come back?”
“If this does do what West told me it would? If it LASTS? I’ll tell you what: Give me a century or two to kick back in the Caribbean, and I’ll take over for West once he’s gone. I understand he’s a special case. 200 years, right?”
“Unfortunately yes. I have to admit I’m a little bit disappointed. I was hoping you might stick around, help us out.”
“Oh, don’t you worry about that! Crusty old badgers like us tend to keep our ears to the ground. It comes with the territory. I still know people. I’ll still hear things. And I’ll still pass those along. I owed West my life several times over, before I ever met you.  And now it seems I’ve got a even more red in my ledger. So don’t worry, I’ll take good care of you guys. But if you don’t mind? I’m going to take a little vacation first.”
“Take care of yourself, North.”
The young, yet curiously still grizzled warrior chuckled. “That’s what I’m best at, Carpenter!  That’s what I’m best at!
The former Major Jason Northville drove away, and not a minute later a cab pulled up, carrying Agent West.
“Sorry I’m late, boss.  You’ll never believe it, but somebody boosted my car!”
“I know. He sends his regards.” Edward smirked, shaking his head.

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