“The best collection of free thriller novels I’ve ever seen.”
August 17, 2017

Sedition Chapters 13-16

These are preview chapters of my forthcoming novel, Sedition. Please forgive the block formatting and any errors. These chapters have not been professionally edited. ALSO, BEWARE, THE CHAPTERS CONTAIN ADULT LANGUAGE AND SITUATIONS.

 

Chapter 13: George Has Groundhog for Dinner

 

George sat at his kitchen table, eating scrambled eggs and checking his email on his laptop.

From: Katie@KatieTalk.com

To: GeorgeChapman2222@gmail.com

Subject: Interview

Mr. Chapman,

I hope you’re healing well. My name is Katie Fitzgerald, and I run a blog, podcast, and YouTube channel that tackles a wide variety of political topics. I think you would make a fantastic guest on my show. My show is very popular, number fourteen among political shows on YouTube.

Your appearance would give your viewpoints a tremendous amount of exposure. You would reach a diverse and engaged audience. I would be happy to do the interview remotely via Skype. I would even be willing to travel to you if you prefer. I am that interested in meeting and interviewing you! I hope to hear from you soon.

Sincerely,

Katie Fitzgerald

 

George clicked Reply, typed No thank you, and clicked Send. He opened another email.

From: Maxxedout123@gmail.com

To: GeorgeChapman2222@gmail.com

Subject: Virtual

George,

I saw you on YouTube with that reporter. I have to say, it was pretty badass. It’s the most popular video on YouTube. You should read the comments. People love what you said. I think I’m an Anarchist now. I know you said I need to make up my own mind, and I did. I did my own research, and it makes sense to me. Using violence to make people do things is wrong. It’s really not that complicated. If you think about it, we learn anarchism in kindergarten, when we learn not to hit and take things from our classmates. This is ironic of course because kindergarten is paid for with violence. I think the problem comes not when we’re taught the rules but when we’re taught that the rules only apply to us.

I wanted to tell you that my mom and I are supposed to talk about me going to school online. I’m really hoping she goes for it, but I’m not sure she will. She just went on a date, which is superweird because she hasn’t been on a date since my dad. I know she deserves to be happy, but it’s still weird.

Before she left, she saw that I was emailing you, and she gave me a weird look and asked me what we’re talking about. I think she’s a little uncomfortable with us being friends. I think she’s worried because usually you don’t see kids who are friends with adults.

So, anyway, I asked her about the virtual school thing before she left, and she said she was late and would talk to me about it when she got back. Seems to me that she would have just said yes right there if that was what she was going to do. But she didn’t, so that worries me. What should I do if she says no?

Max

 

George clicked Reply.

From: GeorgeChapman2222@gmail.com

To: Maxxedout123@gmail.com

Max,

It’s nice to hear that you think of us as friends. I do as well. Friends are tough to come by, so I don’t age discriminate. I understand your mother’s concerns. She is welcome to contact me anytime if she feels uncomfortable. I certainly don’t want to cause any problems.

I’m a little embarrassed by my outburst at the reporter. I haven’t watched the video yet. I didn’t think it would end up online, and I certainly didn’t think it would be popular. It was stupid of me. I should have kept my mouth shut. It is nice that what I said is resonating with some.

I was impressed by your kindergarten analysis. I’ve never heard that before. It makes a lot of sense to me. You have a bright and logical mind. Anarchism may be the answer today, but never stop asking the questions, and always be open to new information. Truth is what we’re after, wherever it takes us.

Regarding school, you’re wrestling with a tough dilemma. I wonder if you’ve been completely honest with your mother about the gravity of your situation. If not, I think you should tell her the whole truth and nothing but the truth, as they say. I think, if she knew everything, she would be unlikely to say no. I know it’s painful, but, as they also say, the truth will set you free.

Well, I should get going on my chores. I’m sure it’ll take me twice as long in my condition. Good luck with your conversation. I’m pulling for you.

Your Friend,

George

 

He closed his laptop and stood from the rustic wooden table. George rinsed his plate and utensils at the sink and placed them on the drying rack. Sunlight pierced the south-facing windows. No windows were on the other walls of the one-story home. A rocket mass heater ran along the north wall. The heater featured a cob bench with a small metal opening on one end, and a tray filled with sticks. The other end had a flue that snaked up and out.

George wore canvas pants, a sweatshirt, a straw hat, and a handgun on his hip. His left arm was still in the sling, but he had some mobility. He slipped his headphones into his ears and tapped Play on his phone. Next to the front door was a wire basket and a .22 caliber rifle. He grabbed the wire basket and limped outside. To his right was a solar array on metal racking. In front of the earth-sheltered house was a meadow sloping downhill, edged with endless hardwood forests.

“This is Gary Cook of the Alt News Podcast, providing vital information in a changing world. It’s Saturday, May 12, 2018. Today I have a very special guest. I’ll be talking to Roger Glass, a geologist from Montana, about his export-consumption theory.”

To the left and downhill twenty yards was another earth-sheltered structure, his greenhouse. Like his home, the roof here was covered with earth and meadow grasses and blended into the hill. George walked to the greenhouse. The south side was all glass. Near the greenhouse was a metal cage—a live trap. It was open, with melon rinds inside. A few hundred yards down the hill was a flat area with two buildings side by side: a small log cabin and a garage.

“Roger, welcome to the Alt News Podcast,” Gary said.

“Thanks, Gary. I appreciate you having me on,” Roger replied.

George hiked to the opposite side of the greenhouse to another trap, but this one was shut with a groundhog inside. As George approached the trap, the animal crashed headfirst into one side of the cage, then the other. Its nose was bloody.

“Could you explain your theory in laymen’s terms?” Gary asked.

Roger said, “The world is producing and using around ninety-seven million barrels of oil per day. That includes natural gas liquids and heavy oils from oil sands. To put it another way, we’re draining an Olympic-size swimming pool of oil every fifteen seconds.”

George entered the greenhouse. It was humid and warm, the air sweet. Plants grew in raised beds, plumbed to a large fish tank. Lettuce, kale, radishes, peppers, eggplant, and basil grew in the six raised beds made out of cinder block and pond liner. Each planting space was twice the size of a coffin. Eight-foot-high trellises attached to the beds held melons and tomatoes and squash snaking in and out of the grids.

“That’s a staggering amount of oil,” Gary said.

“It is,” Roger replied. “My theory is that, as world oil production peaks, the price of exported oil will increase, stimulating the economic growth and thereby the oil consumption in the oil-exporting countries. This will create a positive feedback loop with declining exports and higher prices.”

“Do you have an example of your theory in action?” Gary asked.

“The United Kingdom and Indonesia track the theory very well,” Roger replied. “These countries were net exporters. If you examine the seven years after the production peaks for the United Kingdom and Indonesia, you’ll find that UK oil production decreased 7.8 percent per year, and their domestic consumption increased .2 percent per year. Exports fell a staggering 55.7 percent per year. Indonesia’s numbers weren’t quite as dramatic, but their exports declined on average 3.9 percent per year, and their consumption rose 4.1 percent per year. Their export decline was 28.9 percent per year.”

George checked the pH of the five-hundred-gallon fish tank. The water was clear and populated by seventy tilapias about the size of his hand. He refilled the automatic fish feeder and then picked ripe produce, collected in his basket, doing everything with his right hand.

“Do you think we’ve reached the peak of world oil production?” Gary asked.

“I don’t know,” Roger replied. “The past few years we’ve been bumping along at ninety-six to ninety-seven million barrels of oil per day. I’m not sure we can produce anymore, especially with prices as low as they are.”

George limped up the hill to his home. He put the produce in the refrigerator, grabbed a large bowl, the .22, and returned to the greenhouse. He set the bowl on the ground and stood behind the groundhog trap, waiting for the animal to settle down. He loaded a round in the chamber with the bolt action and pressed the button near the trigger, releasing the safety. His finger was straight and off the trigger as he moved the barrel into the cage. The groundhog was facing away when the round entered the back of his head. The animal spasmed and stood on its hind legs, before dropping to the floor of the cage.

George went into the greenhouse and grabbed a bucket and a plastic table with metal legs. He set up the table near the cage and pulled the hose next to his butcher station. The groundhog was still, a puddle of bright red blood near its head. He retrieved the animal and plopped it down on the table.

He took off his sling. George needed both hands to skin and gut the animal. Once the groundhog was butchered, he put the meat and fat into his bowl. The guts, skin, hair, head, and legs went into the bucket. He took his bowl of meat to the house and put it in the refrigerator. He returned to clean the table, and dump the gut bucket in the woods.

Gary said, “In 2006, you made a prediction of a future with four-hundred-dollar oil prices, which would equate to nine or ten dollars per gallon at the pump. Apart from the spike in 2008, we’ve had relatively stable oil prices. Today a barrel of oil trades for about fifty-four bucks a barrel.”

Roger exhaled. “I never gave a time frame. Prices have been lower than I thought they’d be. We had more demand destruction in 2008 than I thought we would. The amount of shale oil coming out of the United States has been a surprise, but those wells start like gangbusters and deplete very rapidly, and many of those companies are losing money at fifty-dollar oil prices. I don’t know if the economy can support four-hundred-dollar oil without imploding, but I still think an oil shock is likely.”

“Are there any countries we should be watching today, in terms of declining oil exports?” Gary asked.

“Mexico may cease to export a single barrel of oil by 2020,” Roger replied. “Mexico used to be the number two exporter to the United States.”

“Are there any predictions you’d like to make for oil prices in the future?” Gary asked.

Roger laughed. “I think I’m done with predictions. I will say that we’re dealing with a nonrenewable resource that’s absolutely vital to everything we do, and we’re using it at a staggering rate. It’s gonna end in tears.”

 

Chapter 14: John Goes Fund-Raising

 

John Bradley stood on the flagstone patio, overlooking the Memorial Day celebration around the pool, on the lawn, and under the tent. Dark-skinned men and women in button-downs and bow ties served the elderly patrons. The party was crawling with secret service officers in suits and plainclothes.

“Isn’t this grand?” Donna asked.

John turned, a bottle of beer in hand. She wore a blue and white floral sundress with an oversize hat.

“You look beautiful,” he said.

She sidled up to him, resting her hands on the concrete railing, one hand briefly touching his. “You ready for this?”

“It’s a party.”

“Exactly. It’s much easier to influence people when they’re relaxed.”

John was in a daze, wearing khakis and a blue blazer.

“You okay?” she asked.

He blinked. “I’m at that goddamn DCCC call center almost every day. You’d think I could take a day off from begging for money.” The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee raised money for the Democratic Party, often using politicians as telemarketers.

Donna was straight-faced. “Today isn’t the day to take off. This is one year’s worth of calls in one afternoon.”

He downed the rest of his beer and set it on the railing. “If I had been born into a different family, I’d probably be a gym teacher and a lacrosse coach. I might even be a Republican.”

She mock-gasped. “The hell you say.”

John forced a smile. “Sorry, coming here …”

“You want to talk about it?”

He shook his head and sighed. “Give me the rundown.”

“You sure?”

“Yeah.”

“Everyone needs to be acknowledged, but you should focus on four people. Walter Moody. General Gates—I’m assuming you remember not to call him Doug.”

“I remember.”

“And Carl Humphrey and Adam Doyle.”

“I think you should distract them, maybe hike up your dress a bit but not too much. You don’t want these old fuckers to have coronaries. While you’re using your feminine wiles, I’ll bump into them and steal their wallets. Instead of Bonnie and Clyde, it’ll be Donna and John.”

She shook her head, suppressing a grin.

“What?” He held up a palm. “It’s more honest than what we do.”

“Can you be serious for a minute?”

John made a somber face.

“This is important.”

“All right.” He bumped her hip with his. “You worry too much. With the exception of Doyle, I’ve known these guys forever.”

“It was a friendlier, peripheral relationship through the senator and Will. This is different. This is business. Remember, Walter Moody is very serious, so no jokes, and call him Mr. Moody. He obviously doesn’t like it when you call him Walter.”

“Mr. Moody is moody and has a stick up his ass. Got it.” John tapped his head with his index finger.

“He’s concerned about the FDIC coping with the next banking crisis, so make sure he knows that you would support bailouts for national banks and takeovers for local and regional banks.”

“Fuck the little guy. Got it.”

She pursed her lips. “This is how it’s done. Compromise.”

“I know. Believe me. I know.”

“And don’t salute General Gates, like last year.”

“Oh, come on. He was drunk. He thought it was funny.”

“He wasn’t that drunk. You were. The last thing we need is some paparazzi taking a picture of you saluting, like Gomer Pyle. Voters still worship the military, and they won’t tolerate any perceived disrespect. And you can bet the Republicans would use it.”

“No saluting the general, but I have to call him General. Got it. He wants to make sure I’ll maintain defense spending, even though I’ll be running as the peace president.”

“Exactly,” she replied.

“Carl Humphrey, CEO of Unico, likes me to call him Carl. He likes to talk about his wife, Barb, and his boys, Mark and Tom. He likes the Dallas Cowboys. He’s concerned with the low cost of energy eating into his profits. I’ll promise subsidies. That about right?”

“Good memory.”

John taps his head again. “Like a steel trap.”

Donna smiled.

“I don’t know Adam Doyle very well,” John said. “I think we’ve met a couple of times. He’s a short guy, red hair.”

“He’s young, forty-five. Well, young for this crowd. He’s the CEO of Armor Software.”

“They were just awarded a contract with the DOD and Homeland Security.”

Donna nodded. “They have software that’s still in beta. According to our contact at the NSA, it’ll revolutionize how we fight terrorism, specifically domestic terrorism.”

“Plotting?” a white-haired man asked, approaching from behind.

“Will,” John said, turning around. “How are you doing?”

Will held up his beer. He was tan, tall, and fit. “I’m happy not to be doing what you’re doing.”

John hugged his brother. They disengaged, and Will leaned forward, kissing Donna on the cheek.

“Donna,” Will said, “you look great.” He glanced at her hands. “I’m surprised you’re not hitched yet.”

“Still kissing frogs,” Donna replied.

Will chuckled. “Well, you’ll make some lucky guy very happy.”

“That’s the Bradley presidential charm.”

“You know it’s genuine because I’m not running for office. So, Donna, you think my coattails are strong enough to take my baby brother to the White House?”

“Let’s not forget the senator’s coattails,” John said. “Did you actually make a decision without Dad’s say-so?”

“Nobody makes it to the White House without help,” Donna said.

“Maybe she should run,” Will said with a smirk.

“She’s too smart for that,” John replied.

Will chuckled. “I’ll second that.”

“How are the boys?” John asked.

“Travis loves it at Nielson Bloomberg. Why wouldn’t he? Making the kind of money he’s making. Colleen’s hoping he’ll settle down soon. Chad, well, he’s still at UVA for another year. He’s taking after his uncle.”

“I graduated in four years,” John said.

“Barely.”

“See this?” John asked Donna. “My big brother’s still picking on me.”

“Do I have to send you two to your rooms?” Donna asked.

“I’ll take a spanking too,” Will said, with a twinkle in his eye.

“How’s Colleen?” John asked, reminding his brother of his wife.

Will winked at his brother. “She’s doing great. She’s with Linda and Mom inside.”

“Time to hit the campaign trail. Watch out for this one.” John lifted his chin to his brother. “He’s been known to get handsy.”

Will raised his hands in mock capitulation.

John walked down the steps of the patio, along the flagstone walkway toward the pool. He waved and beamed and said hello to partygoers along the way. He spotted Carl Humphrey at the bar. John stepped under the tent sheltering the white round tables and chairs, a dance floor, a string quartet, and the bar. Carl talked to the dark-skinned bartender, a scotch in hand. He looked sharp in his gray suit and Texas tie with his white hair combed straight back.

“Carl,” John said, slapping the man on the back. “How ’bout them Cowboys?”

Carl turned to John straight-faced. “Considering its May, there’s not much to say.”

John held his smile, but his eyes were still.

Carl laughed. “I’m yanking your chain. You want a drink?”

John forced a chuckle. “You buying?”

Carl turned to the bartender. “My new friend Reggie has a nice single malt back there.”

Reggie smiled, showing his bright white teeth.

“Reggie,” Carl said, “could you please pour the congressman a healthy glass?”

The bartender poured the Scotch and set the glass on a coaster.

“Thank you, Reggie,” John said, picking up the glass. John took a drink, the scotch burning his throat. “That’s a helluva good scotch.”

“Highland Park, twenty-five years old,” Carl said. “You don’t strike me as a scotch drinker.”

“It’s been a while,” John said.

Carl nodded.

“How’s Barb doing?”

Carl took a drink and swallowed. “She’s fine.”

“Mark and Tom?”

“You have a good memory, or someone on your staff does.”

John raised his eyebrows.

“Let’s cut the bullshit, John. I’m too damn old for it. You don’t give a shit about my family any more than I give a shit about yours.”

John smiled and held up his glass. “I’ll toast to that.”

Carl grinned, and they clinked glasses.

The old man took a drink. “I’ve lost a lot a money supporting Democrats. Why can’t y’all win a goddamn election?”

“I’ve won my seat five times in a row, soon to be a sixth,” John replied.

Carl waved his hand. “There’s a majority Republican congress, and Art looks like the horse to back in 2020.”

“The tide’s turning, Carl. People are tired of the Republicans. They’re looking for a change.”

“You’re the change candidate?”

“You said it.”

“All right, I’ll play along. Let’s say I invest a truckload of cash behind your campaign. Let’s say you win. How does that help me? Aren’t you the alternative-energy candidate? Aren’t you planning to tax the hell out of fossil fuels and give subsidies to a bunch of bankrupt solar manufacturers?”

“Look. I know where our energy comes from. Nothing will change that. I know that the oil and gas industry is struggling. I think subsidies are in order. I’ll give subsidies to alternative energy to appease my base, but the oil and gas subsidies will be worth far more.”

Carl shook his head. “We don’t need subsidies. What we need is a fair commodities market, one that reflects the true supply-and-demand picture. As long as the Federal Reserve and their member banks can sell futures contracts for barrels of oil they don’t have, with money they create out of thin air, they’ll make the price whatever they want it to be.”

“You want an inquiry into their commodities trading?”

Carl frowned. “I don’t want an inquiry. We’ve had plenty of those, and it doesn’t do a damn thing. I want it to stop.”

“That’s above my pay grade, even as president. I think you know that.” John took a drink.

Carl also took a drink and set the glass on the bar. “These low prices’ll end in shortages. Oil wells are shutting down. Nobody’s drilling. They can only play the paper game for so long.”

“You know how Americans are about high gas prices.”

“We’ll see how they do with no gas.”

“Let’s hope not.”

Carl looked at Reggie. He was at the opposite end of the bar, giving the men their privacy. “Hey, Reggie, could you come over here for a moment?”

The bartender walked toward them with raised eyebrows.

“Are you a voter, Reggie?” Carl asked.

“Yes, sir,” Reggie replied, his back straight.

“Are you a Republican or a Democrat?”

“I’m an Independent, sir. I vote for the best man for the job.”

“Smart man.” Carl grinned. “Hypothetically, in 2020, we have Representative Bradley here from Virginia.” Carl nodded toward John. “And Secretary of State Arthur Coleman as the Republican candidate. I’m assuming you know who these men are?”

“I am familiar with Secretary Coleman. I shook his hand when I was in the army. I’ve seen Congressman Bradley on the news.” Reggie looked down. “With the attack and all.”

“Okay, great. You’re a well-informed man, ready to do his civic duty. Do you vote for Mr. Bradley or Art Coleman?”

“I’m sorry, Congressman. I’d vote for Secretary Coleman.”

“And that’s where my money’s going,” Carl added.

John smiled at the bartender. “Thank you for your service, Reggie.”

“You’re welcome, sir.”

“Secretary Coleman’s former military, like you,” John said.

“Yes, sir.”

“And he’s African American, like you.”

“Yes, sir.”

“Do you feel like he has more in common with you than I do, considering that I never served, and I’m white?”

“Yes. I don’t mean any disrespect, sir.”

“None taken, Reggie. What do you think is more important, the color of a man’s skin or the actions of a man?”

“The actions.”

“What’s more important, whether a president has served in the military or his effectiveness as president?”

“His effectiveness.”

“Did you know that thousands of veterans are dying because of delays and incompetence at the VA?”

Reggie nodded, his face rigid. “That doesn’t surprise me. I can’t stand my VA.”

“Did you know that we have twenty-two veterans killing themselves every day?”

“No, sir, but that doesn’t surprise me either.”

“Art Coleman has been the Secretary of State for the last six years. He was a general in the army prior to that. Would you say that he has some culpability for these horrible tragedies?”

“Yes, sir. I would.”

“My first order of business as president would be to clean up the VA system and to provide returning soldiers the care they deserve.”

“I’d like to change my vote,” Reggie said to Carl.

“Thank you, Reggie,” John said.

Carl extended his hand to John. “We’ll talk.”

They shook hands.

John stepped away from the bar and surveyed the room. General Gates talked to a group of men with crew cuts. Maybe later. Walter Moody ate at a table by himself. John made a beeline for him.

“Mr. Moody, may I join you?” John asked.

The wrinkled man looked up. The skin around his mouth hung in a perpetual frown. His gray hair was short, receding, and slicked back. Moody pointed his steak knife at the chair next to him. “Have a seat, Congressman.”

John sat, with one seat between them as a buffer.

Mr. Moody continued to eat as if John was invisible.

“How’s the steak?” John asked.

Mr. Moody grunted the affirmative.

“Paul Volcker still looks good. I hope I look that good at ninety.” Volcker was a former Federal Reserve chairman.

Mr. Moody nodded.

“He’s a big man. Six-six maybe?”

Mr. Moody continued to eat.

“The housing market’s starting to soften,” John said. “Some of the major markets are down 10 percent over the past year.”

Mr. Moody nodded.

“The default rates on college loans are rising.”

The old man set down his fork and knife. He wiped his mouth with the napkin from his lap and narrowed his eyes at John. “As president, do you plan to be involved with monetary policy?”

“Nothing more than a mouthpiece when you need me.”

“Do you think we ought to let this loan bubble burst on its own accord?”

“If you do that, it’ll cause a ripple effect through the stock market, the debt markets, the housing market, and ultimately jobs and the economy. I think it would be an economic disaster.”

He glared at John. “Good.” Mr. Moody went back to his steak.

John stood up. “Nice talking to you, sir.”

Moody’s face softened. “It’s about time for a Democratic president.”

John spotted his other mark across the room. Adam Doyle was a short red-haired man with wire-rim glasses and some serious arm candy. His trophy wife had six inches on him, helped by model genes and heels. They nursed drinks; him a beer, her some fruity concoction. They spoke in hushed whispers. She didn’t look happy.

“Adam,” John said, grinning as he approached.

The ginger-haired man turned from his wife with raised eyebrows.

“Congressman John Bradley,” John said.

Adam forced a smile. “It’s good to see you again, Congressman.”

“Please, call me John.” John eyed the ex-model.

“This is my wife, Kim,” Adam said, gesturing to the brunette.

John extended his hand.

She returned a limp-wristed handshake.

“It’s a pleasure to meet you, Kim.”

Her mouth turned up at John for a split second. “I’m going to the bathroom,” she said. She strutted off, her head held high and her hips rocking as if she were on a catwalk.

“I hear Armor Software has some revolutionary products,” John said.

“We’re working on it,” Adam replied.

“I’m a big proponent of using software instead of manpower, especially on the battlefield.”

Adam nodded.

“You have to be bored.”

“Excuse me?”

“You’re a young successful guy with a beautiful wife. And here you are at what must feel like a retirement home.”

Adam smiled. “I think Kim wants to leave.”

John chuckled. “I could tell that from the other side of the room.”

“That bad, huh?”

“I wouldn’t worry about it. My wife’s in the house with my mother. She’s not interested in politics either.”

“Neither am I.”

“I told my chief of staff today that I should have been a gym teacher, so I know what you mean.”

Adam laughed. “I should have designed video games.”

“Instead you designed what I’ve been told is the software that will revolutionize how we fight terrorism. I have to say, I’m very impressed and intrigued.”

“Well, it’s classified and still in beta.”

“I’m aware. I have contacts at the NSA.”

Adam glanced around to make sure they were out of earshot of the other guests. “Between you and me, I did want to tell you something. During testing, we identified Louis Allister as a threat before the shooting.”

John’s eyes were wide. “How does the software identify a threat?”

“It’s an algorithm, affected by many factors. Everything from demographics, social media, online purchases to banking and credit card data. We even track whether or not people cover their laptop camera.”

“It would’ve been nice if they had picked him up beforehand.”

“We didn’t know for sure what he would do, and we certainly didn’t know where and when. There are some legislative hurdles to picking up people before they’ve committed a crime.”

John smirked. “As a lawmaker, I’m not sure I can get around that one.”

“That’s what we’re working on.”

John stepped a little closer, looking down on Adam. “Now I’m captivated.”

Adam stifled a grin, like he had a secret that might land him a seat at the cool kids’ table. “It collects data, from everyone, including crimes.”

“What kind of crimes?”

“Anything we can track online. Purchases of drugs without a prescription, drug use pictures on Facebook, not paying sales tax, child pornography, even pictures of dead animals shot or trapped illegally. It even works state by state, where laws differ.”

“That is impressive. You’re banking on collecting evidence of criminality on the people who your software has identified as potential threats. What if they haven’t committed a crime that your software can find?”

“With hundreds of thousands of regulations, thousands of federal criminal laws, plus state and local laws, the software almost always finds something. In our beta testing, 92 percent of people had offenses.”

“Did Louis Allister have any offenses?”

“He was buying heart medication online, for what looked like his father.”

“What if Allister was in the 8 percent?”

“Things can be done, but I’m really saying too much now.”

John stepped back. “I understand. Keep up the great work.”

They shook hands and exchanged business cards.

John said, “You ever need any help dealing with the vultures on Capitol Hill, let me know.”

John stepped out of the tent, the sunshine warming his face and heating up his blue blazer. On the opposite side of the pool, the senator talked to General Gates. They were laughing. They shook hands and parted ways. John walked toward his dad. They met near the pool edge, the azure water sparkling in the sun.

“Dad,” John said.

“John,” the senator said, shaking his son’s hand.

Former Senator William Bradley II was svelte and tall, with a full head of gray.

“How was Gates?” John asked, looking down a few inches on his dad.

The senator paused. “He’s concerned about what an antiwar Democrat will do to the defense budget.”

“We don’t need his money,” John said.

The senator glowered, his deep-set eyes like coal. “You’re playing with the big boys now. You’re not in a position to be choosy.”

“What did you tell him?”

“The truth. The antiwar rhetoric is just that. Rhetoric.”

 

Chapter 15: Katie, Off the Record

 

Katie sat at her glass desk, reading George’s reply on her laptop.

“Shit,” she said to herself.

She sent a text.

Katie: He said no, again.

Declan: Shit.

Katie: That’s what I said.

Declan: Did you offer him money?

Katie: He said it’s not about the money.

Declan: There are other Anarchists we could get.

Katie: Not one this popular. He stopped a terrorist attack on a congressman who might be our next president. We could go to his house. Corrinne Stevens put a camera in his face, and he eventually talked.

Declan: And he might put a gun in our face. Not out of the question for an Anarchist.

Katie: He won’t shoot us. According to his background check, he doesn’t have a criminal record.

Declan: What if he just says no?

Katie: “Off the record” interview.

Declan: That’s on you. I’m not getting sued.

Katie: The guy’s a trucker with a cabin he bought for 70K. He can’t afford a lawyer. Besides, he’ll say yes.

Declan: Flights to PA aren’t cheap. I’m not sure I even have time for this.

Katie: Come on. I’ll pay. It will be like a vacation.

Declan: To Pennsylvania?

Katie: Okay, maybe not a vacation but an adventure. You’re between projects. What’s a few days?

Declan: You sure on the address?

Katie: Pretty sure. Background checks are usually correct.

Declan: OK

Katie: I LOVE YOU. I’ll check flights.

***

Declan drove the rental car, gravel crunching under the tires, and a hardwood forest encroaching the roadside. Katie peered out the window. Cabins and trailers were generously spaced and marked by rusted mailboxes.

“We’re in the middle of nowhere,” Declan said.

Katie glanced at the GPS. “It says we’re off course.”

“Maybe I missed a turn. We should turn around.”

Katie spotted another mailbox. “It said ninety-eight on that mailbox. I think we’re almost there.”

A few miles farther, they found it. The metal mailbox was labeled 122. They turned onto the gravel driveway. There was a gentle slope uphill. It was a one-lane road, with briars, brush, and dense forest along the roadside. They came to a small clearing, a flat area with a garage and a log cabin.

Declan parked in front of the cabin.

They stepped from the vehicle. Declan twisted his upper body back and forth, working out the kinks. Katie reached into her pocket and turned on the hidden camera attached to her blouse. It was disguised as a button. The mike was attached to her bra and loosely covered.

“Did you turn it on?” Declan asked.

“I’m on,” Katie replied.

Declan appraised the property. “You know you’re in redneck country when the garage is bigger than the house.”

Katie laughed.

They walked up the stone steps to the front door of the cabin. The windows were boarded up.

“It looks abandoned,” Declan said.

Katie frowned and knocked on the door.

They waited. Katie knocked again, harder.

“I don’t think anyone lives here,” Declan said.

“Let’s check the garage.”

The garage was a two-car vinyl-sided box with rollup doors. Katie yanked on a garage door. It was locked. There were no windows. They checked the side door. It was locked.

Katie exhaled. “Well, shit.”

Declan surveyed the area. The run-down cabin, the windowless garage. “I think we should get out of here.”

Leaves rustled, and a twig snapped. The rustling continued. It was getting louder. Katie and Declan looked at each other, frozen.

George appeared from behind an ancient oak, a handgun holstered on his hip. “This is private property,” he said.

Katie sucked in a breath, her hand on her chest. Declan stood behind her.

“Oh my God, you scared me,” Katie said.

George was blank-faced. His clothes were worn and stained. Is that blood? He wore a straw hat that looked like it belonged in a rice patty.

“Mr. Chapman, I’m Katie Fitzgerald.” She smiled. “You know? The one who’s been emailing you like a crazy person?”

“I’m not doing the interview,” George said. “I was clear.”

Katie approached George. Declan hung back. “I don’t know if you know this, but I live in San Francisco. My associate, Declan, and I have come a long way to see you.” She motioned to Declan.

“Not my problem.”

“Of course not. I was just hoping that you would do the interview when you saw me. I’m sincerely interested in what you have to say and so is the rest of America, as evidenced by the popularity of your video with Corrinne Stevens.”

“It’s not my video.”

“The reason it’s popular is because of you, not that dim-witted reporter. Please, Mr. Chapman. I would be eternally grateful.”

He rubbed the dark stubble on his chin. “I’m sorry you came all this way, but I’m not doing the interview. Please leave.”

“What about a conversation, off the record? No camera.”

“Or audio?”

“No. I really am interested in what you have to say.”

“I don’t have anything to say.”

“Then it’ll be a very short off-the-record interview. Please, Mr. Chapman.”

He huffed. “All right, come on.”

George hiked toward the woods behind the cabin. Katie and Declan exchanged a glance and hurried after. George walked into the forest along an informal path. After a short walk, the trees opened up to a clearing, a meadow with long grasses and purple lupines. They followed George to a small house built into the hill. There was a solar array next to the home.

“Come in,” George said, opening the front door.

Katie and Declan stepped inside, their eyes wide. They saw the entire house from the front door: a kitchen with a wooden table, a sitting area, and two rooms—a bathroom and a bedroom, their doors open.

“This is a really unique house,” Katie said.

George grabbed a wooden chair from the sitting area and placed it next to the kitchen table. Now three chairs were around the table. “Have a seat,” he said. “Would you two like something to drink?”

“No, thank you,” Katie said.

“Declan?”

“I’m fine,” Declan replied.

Declan and Katie sat down next to each other, and George sat across from them. He set his hat on the table and leaned back. His dark hair was short and matted.

“What would you guys like to talk about?” George asked.

“When Corrinne Stevens from USN questioned you, you seemed very angry with the US government. Are you angry with the US government?”

“Yes.”

Katie and Declan glanced at each other.

“Care to elaborate?” she asked.

“No.”

Katie scowled for a split second. “You said that governments around the world have killed 250 million people in the past hundred years. Do you have a source to back up that claim?”

“It’s from a study done by the late professor R. J. Rummel at the University of Hawaii, and the figure’s somewhere between 250 and 300 million to be exact.”

“So, it’s the wars you oppose?”

“I do oppose war, but that statistic doesn’t include war deaths. These are democide deaths.”

“Democide?”

“When people are killed by their own government.”

“There have been despotic regimes such as Mao in China or Pol Pot in Cambodia. Surely you’re not equating the United States with these regimes that murdered their citizens.”

“That’s a common argument made by government apologists. They take the most evil governments they can think of and compare it to their country. Then they say, ‘See? We’re not like that. We’re so thankful for our government.’ They’re right. There are varying degrees of evil governments, but the apologists are still missing the big picture. All governments are evil because they all derive their power and wealth from coercion, intimidation, and violence.”

Katie pursed her lips. “Do you realize that sounds insane?”

George responded as if she’d asked about the weather. “These ideas cause cognitive dissonance. If a person is taught to worship government through propagandistic schooling and rituals and media and culture, it makes sense to me that these ideas would seem insane. Most people will soothe their internal conflict with confirmation bias, by seeking out information that supports their previously held viewpoints.”

“What you’re saying isn’t unique. This is Anarchist ideology, and not only is it insane but it’s also dangerous and divisive.”

“I don’t care whose ideology it is. I care about whether or not it’s true. And the truth is that all governments exist and continue because of violence, not because of voluntary support. Good ideas don’t require violence for support.”

“I’ve been a critic of the US government, but I also see the good it’s doing here and around the world. Can you explain how it is that our government exists only through violence?”

“Where does the funding come from?” George asked.

“Taxes,” Katie replied.

“And inflation. Of course, if we go down that rabbit hole, we’ll be here all day talking about the history of central banking.”

She rolled her eyes at Declan. “Okay.”

“People don’t have a choice about whether or not they pay their taxes or use their currency, which is debased. The government uses extortion backed up by violence to fund all their operations. What do you think would happen if taxes were optional?”

“People are inherently selfish. Taxes have to be an obligation, because otherwise we wouldn’t have all the things that make our society a great place to live. We wouldn’t have schools and roads and protection.”

“So, to have schools and roads and protection, we create and give an institution the power to run a massive extortion and counterfeiting racket and to use our wealth to kill millions of innocent people overseas? I think we can find a way to provide those services peacefully.”

“Like Somalia? They’re an Anarchist society.”

“Unfortunately, for the people there, that place was in bad shape with a centralized government, and it’s still in bad shape. Are you familiar with a journal article entitled, Better Off Stateless: Somalia Before and After Government Collapse? It was written by Peter T. Leeson.”

“No, I’m not.” How the hell am I supposed to know about some obscure journal article?

“In the paper, Leeson compared eighteen welfare indicators of Somalians before and after the collapse of their government. He found that Somalians were notably better off now than with government. The other thing to keep in mind is that we’ve had many government failures worldwide. Governments don’t have great track records. According to the 2017 Failed States Index, 21 percent of the world’s countries have failing states. These are governments that are often predatory, dysfunctional, and on the brink of collapse. Also, according to the index, 56 percent of governments are in what they call a state of alert, meaning they are approaching failure. Essentially the majority of the world lives under a dysfunctional state.” George paused. “Maybe we should try something else.”

“And you think that something else is anarchism?”

George shook his head. “I don’t know, but I would like to have the freedom to decide for myself, and I would like others to have that same freedom.”

“How would that work? We all have to agree.”

“Look, I don’t have all the answers, and people will never agree, but freedom means letting others say and do things you don’t agree with.”

“So people can just commit crimes then?”

“Anarchism is a society without rulers, not a society without rules. People smarter than me have ideas about dealing with crime without government. Medieval Ireland was an anarchic society that had a private legal system with mediators and professional jurors. I’ve heard of enforcement nonviolently through insurance contracts. Hell, even old-school shunning would be better than what we have today.

“We live in a country with the largest prison population in the world, a place where male rapes outnumber female because of our prison system, a place where one-third of us have a criminal record, not because we are immoral, but because, with so many laws, it becomes impossible for people to live without breaking them in some way. Have you read the book Three Felonies a Day?”

“I have, and I totally agree with the author’s critique. I’m not sure if you’ve seen any of my work, but, if you have, you’ll know that I’m very critical of our legal system. It’s predatory, racist, and ineffective. I’m also very critical of government power, and I acknowledge that we need change, but, if I waved a magic wand and removed government, it would be a disaster.”

“I agree. Big changes usually are. We don’t have to remove government. We just have to remove the teeth of it. If support was voluntary, the power would truly be in the hands of the people. They could decide what to support and how much. Then our government would actually be held accountable, and people could decide for themselves if they wanted to participate.”

Katie smirked. “That’s great in theory, but it wouldn’t work in the real world.”

“You don’t know that.”

“Point to one successful anarchic society today.”

“Are you two married?” George asked, glancing from Katie to Declan and back again.

“No,” Katie said.

“But you’re dating?” George asked.

“Yeah,” Declan said.

“We are,” Katie said.

George looked at Declan. “So, Declan, when you first met Katie, did you put a gun in her face and say, ‘You better go out with me, or I’m putting you in a cage’?”

Declan scowled. “I know this argument.”

“Then you know that the majority of our relationships are already anarchic and free. That’s because voluntary associations work.”

***

At the conclusion of the interview, they stood from the table and shook hands.

“You wanna help others,” George said as he shook Katie’s hand.

Katie nodded, her eyebrows arched.

George let go of her hand. “You’re searching for answers.”

“Excuse me?” she said.

“It’s a good thing, the inquisitiveness, the desire to help others. Sometimes it helps to know the right questions to ask.”

Katie put her hands on her hips. “And you’ll tell me the right questions to ask?”

George shook his head. “No, but I have a book that might inspire quite a few questions.” George walked past Katie and Declan to the bookcase in the sitting room. He pulled a thick book from the top shelf and stepped back to the kitchen. “It’s The Creature from Jekyll Island by G. Edward Griffin.” George handed the book to Katie. “You can keep it. I’ve already read it.”

Katie took the heavy text in both hands. She smirked, shooting a glance at Declan. “Thanks.”

George showed them back to their rental car. Katie gazed from the passenger window with the book in her lap, while Declan drove them away from George’s house.

“You’re quiet,” Declan said.

Katie turned to Declan. Rubber bracelets dangled from his wrist, a wooden medallion around his neck. She remembered the story he had told her of the African medallion. She was impressed by his concern that the jewelry was ethically purchased from a Sudanese woman, not from some corporate sweatshop.

“I was just thinking,” Katie said.

“You didn’t let that guy get to you, did you?”

“No, … no, of course not.”

“That’s good, because he was full of shit.”

“Right.” Katie pursed her lips. “He was different than I thought he’d be. He didn’t know what questions I’d ask, but he seemed to have an answer for everything.”

“Because he was talking out of his ass. We’ll fact-check him and debunk him in the video. We’ll expose him as the liar he is. It’s fucking awesome that he kept talking about truth, because we can expose him as a hypocrite too.”

 

Chapter 16: Julie and Sport

 

Julie hovered over the stovetop, stirring spaghetti sauce. She heard footsteps coming down the stairs and into the kitchen.

“When are you gonna make a decision?” Max asked.

Julie exhaled and glanced over her shoulder at her son. “Honey, I don’t have time to talk about this right now. Larry will be here any minute.”

“This is bullshit.”

Julie removed the sauce pan from the burner and turned to her son with a scowl. “Language.”

“Well, it is. You’ve been putting this off for like a month.”

“It hasn’t been a month.”

“Yes, it has. I remember because, when you went out on your first date with Larry, I sent George an email, saying that you said we’d talk about it when you got back. You wanna guess the date of that email?”

Julie held out her hands. “I have no idea.”

“It was May 12.” Max crossed his arms, his jaw taut. “It’s June 9.”

“You only have a couple weeks of school left. Why don’t we talk about it when you get out? We’ll both have a better perspective. And I don’t think you should be discussing this with George.”

“You don’t want me to talk about it with George because you know you’re wrong, and you’re delaying the decision because you don’t want me to go virtual.”

Julie sighed. “Honey, I just want you to have some time and distance from school, so we can make a thoughtful decision, not an emotional one.”

We? You and I both know that you’re the one making the decision.”

“Honey.”

“Why can’t you decide now? I don’t like this hanging over me, like the Sword of Damocles.”

“The sword of what?”

“Damocles. It’s a story about this guy who wanted to be king, so the king let him sit on the throne with a sword hanging over him connected to a single horse hair.”

Julie smirked. “Where do you get this stuff?”

“Definitely not at school.”

“I promise we’ll make a decision after school lets out.”

“Whatever.”

The doorbell rang.

“Could you get the door?” Julie asked.

Max stomped to the front door.

Julie glanced at her reflection on the microwave oven. She brushed her auburn hair with her fingers. She checked her floral sundress for any sauce stains.

“Hey, sport,” Larry said at the front door.

“My mom’s in the kitchen,” Max said.

Julie heard diverging footsteps, one set going upstairs, the other headed for the kitchen.

“There she is,” Larry said.

Julie turned from the stove, as if his arrival were a surprise. “Larry.”

He wore a short-sleeve, button-down shirt. It was tightly tucked into his khakis. He approached with a wide grin, a bouquet of roses in hand. “These are for you,” he said.

“They’re beautiful. Thank you.” She took the roses. “I should put them in water.” She searched her cabinets for a vase. “I thought I had a vase in here somewhere.” Her cheeks reddened. She knew damn well she didn’t have a vase. She couldn’t remember the last time someone brought her flowers. “I guess this will have to do until I can find it.” She put the flowers in a plastic water bottle and added water from the tap.

“It smells great,” Larry said. “Is there anything I can do?”

“No, you just relax. Everything’s pretty much ready. I made spaghetti but with spaghetti squash instead of pasta. It’s very good and much better for you.”

Larry nodded. “Sounds great. I hear gluten is pretty bad stuff. I can eat pretty much anything though.”

“Oh, that reminds me.” Julie slipped an oven mitt on her hand and opened the oven. She removed a tray of garlic bread. She set it on the stovetop and turned to Larry with a smile. “We have plenty of gluten too.” Julie removed plates and glasses from the cabinets.

“Are you sure I can’t do something?”

Julie turned to Larry and waved her hand across her face. “Just relax. I’ll be right back.”

She hurried from the kitchen to the bottom of the stairs. “Max, honey, would you please come down and set the table?” No response. “Max?”

A loud techno beat erupted from Max’s room. She fast-walked back to the kitchen. “I’m sorry, Larry. I need to check on Max. Please sit down and make yourself at home.”

“I’d really like to help.”

“You can fill the water glasses, if you want, but please don’t feel obligated.”

“From the tap?”

Shit, I should have bought some bottled water or one of those Brita filters we would never remember to refill. “Yes.”

Julie left her guest and climbed the steps in chunky heels, the techno beat getting louder with each step. She knocked on Max’s door. No answer. She knocked harder. Nothing. She entered his room. Max was at his desk on his laptop, a cartoon under construction. She turned down the iPod plugged into a docking station, complete with speakers.

Max swiveled in his chair. “I was listening to that,” he said.

“It’s too loud, and it’s time to eat.”

Max stared at the carpet. “I don’t like him.”

Julie stepped closer to her son. She placed her hand under his chin and raised his gaze to meet hers. “We’ve only been on three dates, and we might just be friends. I don’t know at this point. I know this is strange—”

“It’s not strange. I don’t like him.”

Julie removed her hand from his chin. “You don’t even know him.”

“He called me sport. I know I don’t like that.”

“That’s not a good reason not to like someone.”

Max crossed his arms. “He’s fake.”

Julie squeezed her eyes shut for a moment. “Please don’t do this to me. I’m trying. I’m really trying. I need you to try too.”

“Whatever.”

Julie took a deep breath, leaned into Max’s personal space, and said, “If you can’t be mature enough to come down, set the table, and be the nice young man that I brought you up to be, you’re obviously not mature enough to go to school online.”

Max’s eyes widened. “Fine.”

Max trudged down the steps after Julie. In the kitchen, three plates sat on the counter. Max yanked open a drawer, set silverware on the plates with a clang, and slammed the drawer shut. Larry watched the train wreck with his mouth open. Max blustered to the dining room, ignoring Larry.

“I put waters on the table,” Larry said.

Julie smiled, her eyes still. “Thank you.” She motioned with her eyes to the dining room and mouthed, Sorry.

“No big deal,” Larry said.

Julie placed the garlic bread in a bowl and covered it with a cloth napkin. Max returned from the dining room, opened the refrigerator, and retrieved a can of Coke. He glared at Julie, daring her to forbid him the soda with dinner. Julie carried the food to the table, and Larry helped.

They sat at the dining room table for four. Larry and Julie sat close to each other at one corner. Max edged his seat as far away from the couple as possible. They passed the food around in silence, Max sending the spaghetti squash and the sauce around the table without putting any on his plate. He grabbed a stack of garlic bread and started eating.

“This looks great,” Larry said, breaking the silence.

Max opened his soda. Pfft.

“Thanks, Larry,” Julie said.

“So how’s work been?” Larry asked, between bites.

Julie chewed, swallowed, and wiped her mouth with her napkin. “It’s been good. Thanks for asking.”

“What about you, Larry?”

Larry grinned. “I couldn’t tell you before because it was confidential, but we arrested a big-time DC drug dealer for tax evasion. Did you know that that’s how we got Al Capone? It was tax evasion.”

“Wow, how exciting. Did you hear that, Max? Larry arrested a drug dealer. Sounds like one of your graphic novels, huh?”

“Not really,” Max said with a mouthful of garlic bread.

“You know? I used to love comics—I mean, graphic novels,” Larry said. “I bet my parents still have them. I could find out. You’d be welcome to have them, if you want.”

“That’s really nice of you, Larry.” Julie put her hand on top of his and squeezed. “Isn’t that nice, Max?”

“Some of them are probably worth a lot of money,” Larry added.

“No, thanks,” Max said, not making eye contact.

“Well, if you change your mind, just let me know.”

Max stood, grabbing his plate and Coke.

“Where are you going?” Julie asked.

“I’m finished,” Max replied.

“Okay then.”

Max set his plate in the sink. He walked past the dining room, holding his soda and two pieces of bread.

“No loud music,” Julie called out as he stomped up the steps.

Julie frowned at Larry. “I’m really sorry about that. He’s usually very well-behaved. I don’t know what’s going on with him lately.”

“He’s a teenager,” Larry said. “That’s enough.”

“You probably want to run right about now.”

Larry shook his head. “I’m not going anywhere.”

Julie smiled.

They finished dinner and cleaned the dishes. Larry helped gratefully.

“Would you like to watch a movie?” Julie asked.

“Sure, but you pick the movie,” Larry replied.

Julie and Larry browsed through the new releases on Netflix. They settled on a romantic comedy that Larry insisted was fine with him.

“Did you want popcorn or something to drink?” Julie asked. “I don’t drink much, but I did buy a few beers.”

“I’ll have a beer if you will,” Larry replied.

As the movie began, Julie sat close to him on the couch but not touching. Larry was on her right side. She sipped her beer with her left hand, keenly aware that her right hand was waiting to be held. Half an hour into the movie, her stomach fluttered as he placed his hand on top of hers. She turned her hand over, gripping his, her eyes on the screen. Halfway through the movie, Larry put his arm around her, and, shortly after that, she leaned against his chest. He smelled like cologne and aftershave. She felt his heart beating rapidly.

As the credits rolled, Julie sat up. “Did you want another beer?”

“I’ll have one if you will,” he replied.

Julie opened two more beers and handed one to Larry before sitting next to him on the couch. “What did you think of the movie?”

“It was okay.”

“Not your cup of tea, huh?”

“Well—”

“You seem like a crime thriller guy.”

“You have me pegged.”

“Good triumphing over evil, right?”

He nodded. “Something like that.”

They downed a couple more beers as they discussed old high school teachers.

Julie glanced at the clock on the cable box. “Wow, it’s already eleven.”

“Time flies when you’re having fun,” Larry replied.

“You’re sweet, Larry Nicholson. How is it that you’ve never been married?”

Larry shrugged. “I don’t know. I guess I haven’t met the right girl.” He grinned. “Present company excluded.”

Julie giggled and stood from the couch. She sat back down, a little wobbly.

“Whoa,” Larry said. “Are you okay?”

Julie continued to giggle. “I’m sorry. I get giggly when I’m buzzing.”

“I thought I was a lightweight.”

“I know. I haven’t had any alcohol since New Year’s. Are you feeling anything?”

“I’m okay. Not sure I’d pass a sobriety test, but I feel fine.”

“I don’t want you to get the wrong idea, but you can stay here tonight, if you want.”

“That’s not, um, … necessary. I’ll be fine in an hour or so. I can sleep in my car if I have to.”

“Sleep in your car? Don’t be ridiculous.” Julie stood up slowly and extended her hand. He took it and stood next to her. “Let’s go up to bed. I’ll stay on my side of the bed.”

Larry glanced at the collection of beer bottles on the coffee table. “Maybe we should throw those out. I wouldn’t want Max to get the wrong impression.”

“Good idea.”

They put the bottles in the recycle bin and tiptoed upstairs. A sliver of light shone under Max’s door. Julie led Larry into the master bedroom with its queen-size bed topped with a floral comforter. Julie shut and locked the door.

“Do you mind if I use the restroom?” Larry asked, glancing at the master bath.

“Of course not,” Julie said.

Larry shut the bathroom door. Julie hurried to the mirror over her dresser. She fluffed up her hair and smoothed out her dress. Larry didn’t use the bath fan to drown out the sound of his urination. He flushed. She listened for the sound of the sink and breathed a sigh of relief when she heard it. He emerged from the bathroom, his shirt tucked in.

“I should go too,” Julie said.

She flipped the fan on and peed. I wonder if he thinks I’m not just peeing? She flushed and cut the bath fan. No, he’ll know that’s too fast. She checked her hair and makeup. She fluffed her hair again and spritzed a bit of hair spray. She stepped into the bedroom. He stood, looking at the framed pictures on her dresser.

Shit.

Julie approached Larry. He stared at a photo of Justin, smiling, in his class A uniform, with his arm around Julie in her black evening gown.

Larry turned to Julie. “I didn’t know he was in the military.”

“That was from the army ball.”

“Did he die in the war?”

Julie’s face was taut.

“I’m sorry. If you don’t want to talk about it, it’s—”

“It’s fine.” Julie took a deep breath. “He died from complications from the war.”

“I’m sorry. He made the ultimate sacrifice.”

She had a lump in her throat. “He did.”

“I wanted to join the marines, but …” He adjusted his glasses. “Bad eyes. I was devastated. It was my dream.”

“I’m sorry, Larry. But you’re still serving the country.”

Larry nodded. “You look beautiful.”

Julie’s face felt hot. “You’re sweet.” She put her hands on his hips and did what she’d wanted to do all night. She untucked his shirt. “Doesn’t that feel more comfortable?” she asked.

Larry stepped closer and placed his hands on her lower back, pulling her against him. He pressed his lips to hers, soft at first. Julie’s lips parted slightly, just enough to encourage more. Larry flipped like a switch. He jammed his tongue into her mouth and squeezed her ass. His hands moved over her body as if it were a race. He reached under her dress and plunged his hand between her legs.

Julie turned her head, unclamping his mouth from hers. She gasped. “Larry, Larry,” she said. “Stop.”

He was unresponsive, panting and grunting like a man possessed.

“Stop!”

Larry’s eyes opened wide in recognition. He yanked his hand from her crotch and stepped back, breathless. “Sorry, … I’m sorry.”

Julie was wide-eyed. “Maybe we should just go to sleep.”

Larry’s face was flushed. “I should go home. I doubt I’ll sleep much in my condition.”

“You can’t drive yet.”

He spoke rapidly. “I’ll be fine. It’s not your problem. I had a nice time, Julie. Thanks for dinner.” He turned and opened the bedroom door.

“Larry, don’t go. You can have the bed. I’ll sleep on the couch.”

“I’ll find my way out.”

“Larry.”

He hurried down the stairs. Julie followed, but, like the superheroes he idolized, he was gone in a flash. Julie locked the dead bolt behind him and trudged back to her bedroom. She kicked off her shoes, unzipped her dress, and dropped it to the floor. She removed her lacy bra. It was the only one she had that wasn’t from a discount store. She put on pajama pants and a T-shirt. She gazed at the picture of Justin and her on her dresser. She picked up the framed photograph, pulled back her comforter, and slipped into bed.

Julie pulled her knees to her chest, the picture close. She gazed at Justin, trying to find some indicator of what was to come. She had a lump in her throat. Tears filled her eyes and slipped down her face. Her body convulsed. She was sobbing now.

 

 

 

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