“What do you want from our collective?”
The teenage girl with purple and green hair asked me with the half-interest that Generation Y/Z has made infamous. I couldn’t tell if the hair was real or a wig, my vision still being blurry, but it was bobbed close and there were two long colored braids. She was probably still in high school. Sensory overload overwhelmed me after what seemed like hours without the benefit of sight or sound due to being hoodwinked with a modified balaclava mask. I vaguely recalled the ride across town in the trunk of a nondescript sedan that bore no badging or identifying characteristics of any kind. I’m pretty sure it was a hybrid of some kind because the motor cut in and out during the short journey through the city.
“I was told to contact you as soon as I got to Newark. I’m not even sure what group you represent. You could be with the assholes that kidnapped me back in Cali or even work for the government for all I know. I’m operating on nothing but blind faith here.”
I tried to get some kind of bearing on my current location. A cursory glance around didn’t provide me with much. Grey concrete walls with old rusty streaks that might have been blood complemented a cement floor with similar markings. It smelled dank but there was also an odor of recent disinfectant.
“Your caution is understandable, and we can appreciate that. You asked for this meeting, now what do you want with us?”
I sat a few moments without speaking, taking in the meaning and underlying meaning of everything she said. She didn’t seem to be the techno-punk type apart from the wild hair. She wore an expensive grey suit with a wide-collared blouse. A brand new laptop hummed quietly in front of her. A webcam on top was pointed across the table at me. Next to the computer and her purse was a small pistol. I’d guess a Walther PPK or something like that. My mom carried one just like it in her purse. Plenty deadly at close range, and since I was unarmed as agreed I wouldn’t be able to do much if she decided she didn’t trust me without ventilating me a few times first.
“Can I smoke in here?”
“Sure, go right ahead. Ash on the floor.”
I dug in my pockets and suddenly remembered having been thoroughly searched, groped in every unmentionable spot from shoulders to boots. My cigarettes and lighter were still in my right front pocket but I could feel the distinct absence of my cell phone in my left pocket and I was pretty sure they had taken my wallet. My ass met the chair a little harder than I was used to. A little padding never hurts, I learned that as a youngster in parochial school. My gym teacher swung a mean paddle, believe that. I pulled out the pack of Camels and popped my Zippo open with two fingers and in one smooth motion lit it by rolling the striker across the top of my thigh. An old habit. I’m a sucker for style, even at the cost of emphysema. Besides, in a few days I’d likely be deader than dirt.
I inhaled deeply, the rich smoke filling my lungs and chasing away the nicotine craving that the cigarette industry counts on for billions each year. I studied her reaction and her eyes. She never looked at the monitor even once to check her Facebook or email or whatever. They stayed fixed intently on me. The pistol on the table gave her a sense of security, but not enough for her to truly relax. Still yet, her air of professionalism outshone her obvious youth, and there was business to be done.
“I need your group to provide a distraction for the NYC cops in a few days. I’m not at liberty to discuss the operation, and have no details, so don’t bother asking.” I was pressed for time, and just wanted to get this over with.
“As if I care,” she retorted with an audible air of what seemed to be true apathy. Mercs are like that whether they fight battles for someone using a gun or computer code. It’s just a paycheck.
“I sense your trying to pull off the old ‘Swordfish’ routine, and while I honestly don’t give a fuck or not if it works out for you I damn sure hope that dead-drop you made was the only contact with our group you’ve attempted. We have no interest in swinging from the gallows with you, Mr. Reynolds, no matter how glorious you believe your cause to be.”
“No. You’ve got me wrong. I’m not even in this for my own sake or ‘glory’ or whatever. I’ve never seen you before and never want to see you again. I’ll be lucky if I don’t end up with a bullet in the back of my head by the time this is all over. This isn’t even my operation, I was pushed into it by…”
“Again, Mr. Reynolds, I truly DO NOT care. Tell us what you need us to do, and what your terms and method of payment will be.”
So I did.
Remember, remember, the fifth of November…no problem there, buddy. Today is the fifth. I’m in New York City standing near Rockefeller Plaza watching people ice-skating and having the time of their lives. I will definitely die today.
I never imagined that I would get tangled up in a terrorist plot to overthrow the government. I’m not a fan of the rat bastards that screw us over on a daily basis but I’ve been a pacifist ever since I heard John Lennon’s epic masterpiece, “Imagine,” and watched the movie “Ghandi,” during an introduction to Political Science course my freshman year at Berkeley. I dropped out during my junior year and joined a nascent grassroots populist movement full-time. To hell with college, I didn’t need a degree to change the world. I’m the kind of guy that wears a lot of tie-dye and sandals, smokes a lot of pot, and likes to jump in the sack with as many hippie chicks as I can convince to do so at any given rave or music festival, preferably under the influence of mild or heavy psychedelics. Most days I hold a sign in front of a bank or lobby my local congressman.
It was during one of those music festivals that my life took a seriously unexpected turn just last week. I don’t know what’s going to happen, but I know a lot of people are going to die due to my actions whether I want them to or not. They’ve got my whole family and all my friends in the crosshairs, and I know they’re serious. Yesterday they killed my fourteen-year old sister, Sarah Jean, just to prove a point. It was staged to look like a random hit-and-run. I know for a fact it wasn’t.
The sign at the end of the pavement read, “Mushroom Mountain Harvest Jam” and I knew I was finally about to participate in the most epic folk-rock festival this side of the Rockies. On the calendar it fell upon a full moon weekend just before Halloween, and attendance was estimated to be upward of twenty thousand folks. I figured by the line of cars and graffitied VW buses and RV’s that it was probably a good estimate. I usually show up a day or two early to set up my campsite and help my usual group of social misfits set up our group kitchen and art displays, but a busted radiator on my old Galaxie 500 kept me stuck in Santa Cruz for an extra day or two, and now I was suffering the consequences. It’s funny how even when you go to society’s fringes you still can’t escape traffic. I figured if I was going to be waiting a while I might as well get high. I pulled out my trusty “chillum” and sparked a bowl of some serious green I scored at the dispensary while waiting for the car to be fixed. I have back issues and anxiety, you see. It’s all legal here in Cali and good medicine in general…not to mention it sure as hell beats sitting in a line of cars for hours while sober. Fuck that.
The car ahead of me, an old 80s model Grand Marquis with more rust coloration than paint stopped just before the curve ahead leading down the hill to the gathering spot in the valley below and to my right. Twilight was coming on and the Sun peaked through the Sycamores and mountain pines with an orange and pink hue. Crickets stirred. I had noticed the Asian girl in the back seat kept looking back at me, but I thought nothing of it because most folks like my car. It’s cream-puff white and has a big psychedelic peace sign on the hood. Maybe she thought I was hot? It didn’t even occur to me that anything was wrong when all four doors opened and all the passengers jumped out with what seemed like maniacal purpose. I guessed it to be a “Chinese fire drill,” no offense to the aforementioned Asian delight.
It wasn’t until I glanced in the rearview mirror and saw people jumping out of the black conversion van behind me that I began to get the distinct feeling that something was definitely amiss. The fact that they were all wearing bandannas, sunglasses, and ball caps drove it home. For the first time in my life I was truly afraid. Not edgy, not paranoid, but completely and utterly terrified.
“Keep your hands on the wheel and don’t move!!”
The voice was female, perhaps the Asian girl, but all I cared about was the submachine gun pointed at my head through my window. I’m pretty sure I pissed my pants. My hands couldn’t have moved of their own volition even if my life required it. My head started pounding and the cool buzz turned into justified paranoia and the surreality of it all grew as my door was yanked open and I was gagged and dragged back to the sliding cargo door of the black van. They pushed me against the door long enough to tie a blindfold over my eyes and bind my hands and feet with zip-ties. It seemed to take less than a minute, if that, and I was unceremoniously tossed headlong into the darkness. I’m pretty sure I passed out after hitting my head on the interior wall of the vehicle.
“WAKE UP, you hippie fucktard!”
The voice in the darkness sounded gruff and I distinctly got the impression that not only were we not at the festival, but that my life was about to change forever, and not in a good way. I was sitting in a hardback chair and the temperature was warmer than a late Fall evening. We were indoors somewhere. I couldn’t smell the forest. I thought I could smell the distinct odor of cannabis drying, which in other circumstances would have been quite welcome. My face was still covered but I discovered that my hands and feet were unbound. Still, I was hesitant to try to make a break for it. I didn’t even know where the hell I was. There could be guns pointed at me ready to cut me down if I budged a muscle. The probability of that seemed high.
“What do you want?” I asked.
“You’re going to achieve your dream, Owen. You don’t have the guts to do it of your own free will, but we’ve found a way to motivate you.” The voice was female, and slightly more pleasant than the first. It almost sounded familiar.
“Mr. Reynolds, you were not chosen at random. You’re going to be an instrument of change for the betterment of the world. You will set free the oppressed masses from the bonds of oppression and tyranny under which you’ve suffered your whole life. Soon you’ll be famous. Dead, but quite famous, indeed.” Shed-dule. This one was British, undoubtedly. I began to wonder if it was all some kind of elaborate prank.
“I don’t want to be fa-..” I was cut off by the sudden impact of something very hard across my jaw. Perhaps a rifle butt?
“You don’t have a choice!” No game. “If you don’t do exactly as we say, when we say, we’re going to kill your whole fucking family, every person you’ve ever called a friend..we’ll straight up kill your goldfish, dude, just for fucking spite.” The first, harsher voice again.
They explained to me that they had picked me nearly at random from a group that recently protested against a large federal banking institution. They liked my fervor and they thought my looks and physique would make me a perfect posterboy for their cause. I was blonde and had blue eyes. I was good looking and well-liked among my peers. In short, I was the kind of person that people would copycat for years to come, so they hoped. While I was passed out they even cut my hair to make me more appealing to a larger demographic. Shit. man, I loved my long hair.
Their objective was a conference of bankers and politicians (surprise!) as well as some unfortunate media personalities and movie stars that would be convened at a certain posh hotel in New York City on November 5th of this year. Only a week or so away. I was not informed of the specifics of exactly how I was going to kill them, and that made it even scarier. I would be flown (first class!) to Newark International on November 4th. First I was to provide a distraction using a group of hackers in New Jersey. Arrangement protocols to meet a contact within that group were explained to me, and I was not to forget even one minute detail. Next, I was to meet my “handler” in NYC on the morning of the fifth at Rockefeller Center. I was to wear certain articles of clothing that would identify me, namely a plain black ball cap and a pair of bright orange Crocs.
“You’ll be reimbursed for the hat and the Crocs when it’s all over,” the female voice assured me, “not that you’ll ever need money again.”
Suddenly I realized I did recognize the voice, and I even knew where from. It was the girl who gifted me a last-minute ticket to the Mushroom Mountain festival in exchange for my promise to pay it forward to another person someday. An anonymous “friend” from Craigslist who I’d only spoken to once by phone, and I remembered her voice. It didn’t even matter if I knew what she looked like. Nothing mattered anymore. I was screwed.
“One thing more, mate…just so you know, we’ve tapped your cell phone and will be monitoring your progress all the way there. If you try to turn the phone off or deviate one smidge from the schedule, we’ll kill you and everyone you love. No funny business, my boy.”
Again with the James Bond voice. It was official. I was stuck in the middle of the world’s worst movie. No popcorn, no 3-D glasses…certain death, the price of admission.