Junkets, Michael Ulin Edwards, $.99 iBookstore
I’m amused by anyone exorcised by Ed Snowdon, prime moron proven traitor, who downloaded crap from the National Security Agency. Everyone reading this post should comment, “You’re a nut,” if you do NOT believe that when you download anything from the National Security Agency, you don’t also download a bunch of stuff the NSA wants on your computer or in your storage systems.
Those readers who would never download anything from the NSA because you don’t want to invite the NSA into your life, signal your agreement by liking this post.
It is likely, probable, a certainty that when Snowdon removed stuff, he took a few things the NSA didn’t want to share with the world; he took a a lot of stuff the world already knows; and he took a bunch of stuff that the NSA wants people and countries to put into their storage systems and computers.
JUNKETS is about the next American intelligence mission, to one of the two targets: China. A middle aged woman on a tour is the operative. The first chapter follows. The remainder at 41,500 words are on the iBookstore for 99 cents, under my name, Michael Ulin Edwards.
Gladys Goode was happy the garbage man had come early. It was noon on her walk to the street. Usually she had to drag the trash container up her long, unpaved drive in the evening. June 2013, no mud, she would get gravel delivered and spread before the fall rains.
She pulled the can toward her, and it slumped right and fell. She stepped around and looked at the rear – a wheel had fallen off. With a foot she moved the container a few feet. There was no wheel.
“They took the damned wheel with the garbage!” she yelled and kicked the container. It moved some but didn’t roll. She kicked it again, again, and again!
She looked across the street, and those neighbors‘ container was fine.
Mine was all right when I wheeled it out, she thought. He wheeled his lame-ass can over and stole mine. He – his whole family was disgusting and despicable. He had had a large boulder on his undeveloped side lot, and always during high water and drenching rains, water rolled off his property onto the street and took out the front of Gladys‘ yard. She had asked politely and offered to make improvements. NO. Secretly, she got tests and solutions, drilled holes and filled them and cracks in the imposing boulder. After the next storm and water, big rocks from the boulder, cracked off and rolled down the street smacking cars, lamp posts and mail boxes. Those neighbors filed claims, all within the last year, and the neighbor across the street had more than a foot of topsoil covering his front yard.
Gladys believed that guy hated her but had no reason to. She had done her work quietly. Now he had traded his defective container for hers.
To feel better she looked uphill at the neighbor’s side lot where the rocks and earth had moved and spread. Coming over the crest was a car, a late model American SUV. She recognized the vehicle for what it was – two men.
She glowered and stared.
The car stopped.
“That’s Gladys Goode,” said the middle-aged man in the passenger seat. His nickname was Honcho except to Gladys. He had been around – around the block, around town, around country, around the world. “Don’t think she’s been drinking. Looks pretty good.”
“What’s she doing?” asked the young driver, Ashton, two years out of the Ivy League, from a wealthy family who always considered Bill Donovan an honorary member. He was green so asked, “Why is she staring at us?”
“She knows I’m in the car, or someone more senior. She waiting for me to flinch.”
The driver looked at his supervisor. He didn’t know much. He had been moved to personal development testing – already he had identified five employees with Jason Bourne tendencies. Now he was on a road trip, chauffeur into the sticks.
He took his foot off the brake.
“Stop!” the older man ordered. “She can’t win this easily.”
“She doesn’t look that tough. I can talk to her,” the novice advanced.
“She’ll only talk to me or someone higher. And never underestimate her intelligence or adaptability. ” He looked ahead. “I’ve known her 23 years. She is a cat now – sit, be patient, relax, watch our gas gauge go lower.”
“How does she know how much gas we have?” the apprentice asked looking at the gauge near empty.
“We drove from Washington. It’s noon. She knows how much fuel the tank holds, the mileage we get and the time. We didn’t stop for gas. She also knows I have to take a leak.”
“I also suppose she doesn’t want to talk to us,” the young man said.
“Certainly, but don’t be offended by anything she says.”
The boy looked at Honcho – chief, supervisor, boss. It was supposed to be a privilege to drive him into the wilds, but the kid didn’t know which state he was in. Honcho had been known to drop personnel off at no where, completely forlorn to find their own way home. So Ashton would do everything he was told.
He interpreted a hand gesture – roll ahead, and releasing the brake, drove the car down the hill.
Gladys Goode watched it come like she would stop it on her own. But it stopped, and Honcho got out.
“Hello, Gladys. Hello, hello, hello.”
“There’s a urinal in the public park down the street, Bosco.”
“I’m very happy to see you’re so well.”
“I don’t want you taking a whiz anywhere near my property. It will confuse the dogs.”
“How long’s it been? Five years?”
The assistant got out, and Gladys looked at him disgusted. She asked, “Which shit-for-brains Ivy did you pull him out of?” She peered at Honcho, “I left because too many Ivys were coming in – they’re so innocent and incredulous. I bet that little girl, smiley-face, tiny-voice, big- busted wench has been promoted!”
“When’s the last time you had a vacation?” Honcho asked.
“I don’t consider seventeen days getting back here, using every chance to rinse my clothes because I had to leave my luggage, a vacation!” she looked and shook a finger at Mr. Ivy. “You fly a 1950s vintage Beechcraft across the Gulf of Guinea and have a good time.”
“Why don’t we talk inside?” Honcho suggested.
“Have Ivy bring up my trash container.”
“Mr. Ashton is my assistant…”
“I’m demanding because I can, Bosco!” she spit a response and stepped toward the car.
Her eyes left his and looked behind him.
Ashton turned and saw the neighbor’s trash container, and the neighbor and kids were driving from their driveway. As they passed, they looked at the people on the street, and their expressions changed.
Ashton looked at Gladys and saw the meanest countenance he had seen on any human being. It was scary.
Gladys noticed him and walked up her drive. Honcho accompanied her. She asked, “Why did you hire him? He’s too pretty to be of use to anyone.”
Out of earshot Honcho said, “We’re looking for someone to be a high school biology teacher, from the Mid-West.”
Her house was functional and looked lived in without dirt or dust. The front porch shaded a wide picture window. The wall underneath, inside, was taken up by a couch and a chair. The wall opposite supported a humongous TV purchased the month before. At the end of the room were two rocking chairs and foot stools with a lamp between them. Opposite them was small wall with paintings hiding the hallway between the kitchen and the bathroom, now in use.
Gladys turned on the TV news, muted. She waited sat in a rocker, no cushions, wooden flat slats giving an instant back massage with rocking. She shut her eyes to feign dosing.
Honcho came from the bathroom, and noticed the TV. He didn’t want to sit on the couch, and not in the other rocker. The easy chair was too small for him, but he headed to it. He said, “You’ve made this home very comfortable.”
“I turned on the TV to see what was happening worldwide to cause you to come see me.”
“There’s no crisis. I’m visiting an old friend.”
“Let me get this out. Those clowns running the show are incapable and incompetent! Let’s have more revelations, more screws loose, operate by trusting, be completely naive and promote unsupervised innocents. I thought the previous administration was bad. Who do I berate most, because it needs doing: Moron One! Idiot Two! Jackass Three! Asshole Four! Why would I want to work for you again? I’ve seen your beaming mouth and blinding teeth. I have a big screen TV. Football season’s about to start.”
“You’ve never been a fan.”
“It’s in the package.”
“We’re paying: Your pension gets a thousand-dollar a month boost.”
“Everything you’ve ever done has been done in war, so no. And your neighbor doesn’t have to know about your tests and analysis of their boulder and your purchase of various acids.”
He noticed on the floor under a small table a plastic box filled with books – software, programming, were words in the titles.
“Are you studying for a new career?”
“That deluded sap who stole all that NSA data. First, most of it is nothing – email addresses and telephone numbers. Trolling for words, phrases, and once anyone realizes its insignificance, he’s toast. I can buy more complete information from Google, Facebook and Link-in as well as get the buying habits for any American from Amazon, Yahoo, the credit card companies, box stores, the local grocery store, pharmacy, art and auto supply shops and nursery companies. What’s that fool thinking?”
“Every American has a right to privacy, except every commercial transaction tells the political parties how you’re going to vote. And he’s now committed treason! No one, our side or theirs, will ever trust him. He’ll end up in a village of peons, probably an elementary school teacher, or he’ll be stuck checking the sewers and flood control channels for the remainder of his life in the middle of Asia, living under repressive regimes until he’s ninety! Howdy-doody to the rest of the world. That kid saw too many Jason Bourne movies! He even gave information to The Guardian newspaper!”
Ashton stood in the kitchen, looking into the living room.
“Ivy, the toilet is to your right, down the hall. Lift the seat! That kid is so innocent, he’s committed every bone-headed mistake.” She looked at Honcho who was non-committal. “Unless he’s a plant.”
“I don’t know,” Honcho responded.
“Or a dupe.”
“Otherwise, this kid’s experience has been seen and told, and is what every American should have learned from the after-traitor troubles of Benedict Arnold.”
“Other than the TV and your course work, what’s life like here?”
“Killing neighbor’s pets, shooting at the cops every so often. We have a lot of fun. My pharmacist knows me.”
“Other than pay, what do you want?”
“Details – itinerary, how long, whom I’ll see, whom I’ll be with. It’s been twelve years, and the body doesn’t respond as well as it did once.”
Honcho grimaced. He knew her recent medical check up was sterling. “Is much changed since your Peace Corp experience in 1976?”
“When my parents thought the university was making me a revolutionary, a feminist, a liberationist, a communist and a drug addict?”
Ashton came into the room and stood.
Gladys spoke to him: “I told my parents I wanted to be an anarchist, another “ist” noun, whether Communist or Christ. So the Corp sent me to Bolivia. I found a boy, sex and no love; we never married. It was convenience. I wasn’t a college grad, but had an ear for music and words in language and could remember a lot. So Ivy, are you shocked at the casual way I entered the rat race?”
Ashton hesitated. He didn’t expect to be addressed or to hear her history. She wasn’t the sort the agency was made of today.
“So what did you do?” Gladys demanded of him.
“I considered the neighbor’s barrel, but they had seen me. There was a telephone number on each container, so I called about getting a new container. I figured they owned each one. They said it would take two weeks, so I got emotional and said how you hurt yourself trying to move it without a wheel. You had fallen down. I didn’t know your name but I told them I was married to your niece, and everyone was at the hospital but me. I had the undesirable assignment of calling about the defective container. So they said they’d get a new container to you in two days.”
Gladys looked at Honcho and said, “That’s a good lie.”
“We’d like the up-front expense to be the same, but we can pad the pension.”
“Is that going to be paid at all, in full?” she coughed disregarding that flummery.
“Your articles about local plants have been fascinating.”
“If we can come to larger terms, and I like it, I may do it. Do you boys want something to drink, or eat? Save your per diem for something special.”
“She a sleeper?” Ashton said driving from Gladys house.
“The best agent I’ve ever worked with. Has always known how everything works. And she’ll know what we’re asking her to do. She reads a lot – has a huge library in the back rooms. That’s her family and company, knowledge. There are no kids, but a sibling sister with brats.”
Trying to get the true message Ashton looked at the road.
“You notice how she dropped in, ‘I want a dog.?’” Honcho asked. “That’s the way to say, ‘NO,’ to me. Old people with dogs never go anywhere.”
“She really doesn’t want a dog? But I asked, ‘Which breed?’”
“Not the first person to be confused. I’ve had conversations with her since the beginning, and I thought she was tizzy, but she knew what was happening – the goals and approximately how to do it.”
“Is that why she was talking about buying the contents of storage bins and ebaying everything?”
“That may have been an entrée to learn about the assignment, but I haven’t figured that out. I mostly never do, but I know she understands and will act independently and appropriately.”
Ashton looked over, so long that Honcho pointed to the road.
“Let me explain. I complained to her once about roundabout, beating around the bush, never-getting-to-the-point conversations. She likes those. There are no specific instructions. And what’s going to happen if anyone ever interrogates her? Nobody has told her anything. She works on her own doing a specific job. It’s part of who she is: Gladys.”
“She brought in a book with definitions of names, and Gladys is is from the Welsh, ‘of unknown origin, of uncertain derivation.’”
“She likes to be in and solve puzzles?” Ashton asked.
“A whiz at crosswords. Never get into a contest with her. She’ll take all your money; she didn’t leave me with carfare. And that’s why she’ll do this. You see the way she was kicking the can? The puzzle solving in her neighborhood disappeared with the boulder.”
Michael Ulin Edwards, 99 cents, iBookstore