It was time to mobilize, there was a fascist in the White House, again.
Marguerite made her way to the upstairs linen closet. The setting sun shone through the dormer window on the opposite end of the hall. On her tiptoes, she grabbed the gray case by its leather handle and, as it scraped across the top shelf, a sheer curtain of dust danced in the beams of light that passed between her arms, over her head and shoulders.
A mug of coffee was waiting for her downstairs, sitting on the butcher block counter and fogging up the kitchen window against the January evening chill. She landed the case next to her coffee and pulled a low-backed stool closer. Thumbing the brass fastener loose she removed the fabric and plywood cover revealing the teal typewriter underneath. After the ribbon advanced several inches, the keys found good ink, and the key levers stopped creaking as soon as the grease on the bearings warmed up.
Communiqué #1 - January 21, 1981 The United States of Amerika has, once again, lost its way. This is a distress call from the belly of the beast that is US imperialism. Our meddling with the democratic process around the world in the interest of lining the pockets of global enterprise has led to the destabilization...
The machine emitted a series of sharp clicks as Marguerite pulled the completed leaflet out to scrutinized her work. The rules were the same, no names, no address, no clear directives or goals. This was a call to action and those who this communiqué was meant for would know what to do.
There was one more finishing touch; Marguerite retrieved an ink pad from a nearby drawer. The ring on her right index finger clung tightly to the flesh of her hand as she wrestled it free and pressed its face firmly, first, on the ink pad, and then, on the bottom corner of the leaflet.
The next morning, Marguerite visited her friend at the university copy shop, leaving with a stack of freshly Xeroxed pages still warm from the machine. She posted them around campus first, using a rusty steel staple gun to attach the pages to bulletin boards and telephone poles, one staple at the bottom, ker-chunk, and one up top, ker-chunk.
ker-chunk ker-chunk — ker-chunk ker-CHINK
Later that morning, with a diminished stack of papers and her hands chapped from the cold, the stapler jammed, leaving a flier hanging by a single staple, fluttering like a wounded bird. Marguerite banged the stapler against the pole trying to dislodge the errant staple. A man in a charcoal overcoat and fedora witnessed her predicament and crossed the street to assist.
“Let me see that.” The man holding out his hand was about twenty years her senior and looked strangely familiar, he smelled of cigar smoke and aftershave.
Marguerite gratefully handed over the stapler and blew into her cupped hands as the man turned the tool over in his hands. The man produced a pocket knife and flicked the blade open with a snap of the wrist. In a moment, he dislodged a clump of staples from the aperture.
“I think that’s got it, let’s see.” The pocket knife closed and disappeared into the inside breast pocket of his overcoat. The man spread the pamphlet against the pockmarked wood of the telephone pole and pressed the stapler against the top edge. ker-chunk
Smiling warmly, he returned the stapler to Marguerite. His eyes fell on the stack of papers.
“What is it you got there, anyway?” Marguerite handed him a leaflet and he perused it, his eyes lingering for a moment on the stamp in the bottom corner. He returned the page to the stack.
“I’ll tell you what, I bet we can get the rest of those hung lickety-split if we worked together. I know this coffee shop around the corner that has the best raspberry danish where we could go for a warm-up afterward.”
Marguerite’s hazel eyes quietly considered the tall stranger. Sun-worn but handsome with a scar in the shape of a C across his chin. There was something about him, a familiarity, as if she had met him before. She nodded once, and smiled agreeably.
“Ok. Sure. You got a name?”
“Mr. Carson. Harold. Call me Harold.”
The work went faster with two, they took turns with the staple gun while the other thumbed pages off the stack and held them in place. The sun was high in the sky when the cold finally drove them to seek shelter and they arrived at the diner. A bell rang as the door swung open and shut, a burst of cold air following them in. They found a place at the counter and Marguerite placed the few remaining pages on the faded Formica. A waitress approached with a pot of coffee in each hand, and, as she filled Harold’s mug, she looked at Marguerite.
“What can I get ya, hon’?”
“Black tea. Milk and sugar…”
“And two raspberry danishes.” Harold smiled and held up two fingers, like a peace sign. The waitress winked, and walked away.
“So, what do you do Harold?”
“I’m a pensioner — I’m retired.”
“OK, so what did you do.”
“I was a cop, in Lansing.”
“Lansing, huh? You know, you look so familiar…”
Just then a young couple, U-M students, entered and the blast of cold air sent the stack of papers airborne. Marguerite ducked down to the floor to collect the papers and, after a moment, Harold joined her to help.
Sliding the coaster on top of the recomposed stack, Marguerite took a sip of her tea, holding the cup in both hands and letting the heat warm her fingers.
“You should know, I don’t date cops.”
Harold held up both hands in mock alarm. “Ex-cop. And this is only coffee.”
Marguerite was so tired, I just need to rest my head for one minute, she thought. She felt an arm tight around her shoulders. Harold’s wool coat was itchy on her face and the scent of cigars was overwhelming as she was led outside and into the car.
Marguerite was only sixteen the first time she was arrested. After school she had taken the Greyhound to the capitol building with a friend, a 90-minute ride, for a protest against the war. The kids there had thrown bottles, garbage, whatever they could find at the cops, yelling “Pigs!” She had become separated from her friend when the police closed in and placed metal linking barriers, a police bus blocking the street they arrived from. The detective who booked her was handsome, a distinctive scar in the shape of a C on his chin.
When Marguerite came to, she was bound to a chair with duct tape, an IV cannula was attached with medical tape to her right arm. Harold must have taken her to his apartment, a modest studio on an upper floor, windows looking out onto the featureless brick of the building next door.
Her eyes darted around the sparsely furnished living space: bar, desk, chair, stereo, couch. The dim light from the windows was augmented by a single bulb in the standing lamp by the couch. She could see through a passageway into the kitchen, illuminated by natural light that seemed to come from nowhere.
Ochre-colored walls were hung with plaques, framed medals, and old photos. The one closest to her was a much younger, much more in shape army-fatigued Harold surrounded by a cadre of grunts that looked just like him. In another, he was shaking hands with J. Edgar Hoover, a couple of dogs at their feet, barely in the frame.
Three doors were in view, one–ajar–revealed a tile floor, yellowed by harsh, incandescent lighting. Bathroom. Another–narrow and unadorned. Linen closet? The third, decorated with an assortment of chains and deadbolts. The way out.
Across the room, Harold’s back was to her, but she could tell he was fixing himself a drink. Scotch on the rocks? Ice cubes. Amber colored liquor. Havana Club.
Turning toward her, he lifted the drink between the index finger and thumb of his left hand, wiping the other on his slacks. His Adam’s apple bobbed as he took a man-sized gulp.
With his free hand, Harold brought the desk chair toward her. He put his drink on the end table next to several glass vials, a syringe, and other medical paraphernalia. Removing his overcoat and hanging it on the back of the chair, he unbuttoned his shirt cuffs and rolled his sleeves up to his elbows. He turned his attention back to the side table carefully loading a syringe first from one vial and then another.
She needed to say something, to stall. “I remember you.”
Harold ignored her, holding the syringe up to the standing lamp & flicking it once with his forefinger. He crossed the room and examined the IV site.
“How about we talk this out, man?” She coughed. “Harold.”
No eye contact.
After shooting the drug cocktail into the injection port, Harold left the empty syringe on the side table and retrieved a portable reel-to-reel tape recorder from a drawer in the secretary. He sat in the chair across from her and placed the recorder at his feet, unwinding the black vinyl-wrapped cord and setting the microphone facing her. He depressed two buttons on the recorder and the reels started spinning slowly with a soft hum.
He finally spoke. “Are you a communist?”
Marguerite’s head was spinning and it felt like the words had to fight to reach her, at the same time, her senses were heightened, the light pulsating like the camera man was oscillating the aperture, the whistling of the tape unspooling was grating. This wasn’t the first time she had been on psychedelics but there was something else in the mixture too, something that made her slur her speech and her tongue dry.
She twisted her mouth and managed to spit a word out: “Why?”
“I remember you, when they brought you in, you were just a fresh-faced little girl. You might not remember, but you spat at me. I was a detective at the time, brought in to assist with processing. There were so many kids being brought in.
In all my years, I’ve only been spat at one other time, when I returned from my deployment in ‘Nam. The protesters, they spat at us, they jeered, and called us ‘baby killers.’
But that wasn’t the worst of it. The worst was coming home from fighting the Viet Cong to find there were commies here, operating at home, and there was nothing we could do about it.
Hoover got us on the right track with COINTELPRO. That leveled the playing field for a while, so we could fight those bastards here at home.
I wasn’t angry at you, though, when you spit in my face all those years ago. It made me sad. Here was this pretty little girl, and these radicals had sunk their talons into you. I didn’t want to punish you, I wanted to save you.”
Marguerite would have spat at Harold, if her mouth wasn’t so dry. He stood then and retrieved his drink, emptying it in a second man-sized gulp and walked to the AV cabinet. Dropping a needle into the groove of a record, he went for a refill.
A man’s voice, monotone, and another track in the background counting backwards from 100.
Play close attention — 100 — to what I am going to say — 99 — 98 — relax, let all tension fall away from your body — 97 — 96 — your arms and legs are heavy — 95 — 94 — you will slip — 93 — into a deep sleep — 92 — shortly — 91 — you will be in a deep sleep — 90 —
The recording continued like that as Harold filled and drained another glass of rum and then wandered off into the kitchen holding the tumbler in one hand, the bottle by its neck in the other. A moment later, Marguerite smelled the sweet smoke of a cigar.
As soon as he was out of sight, Marguerite struggled against her bonds. “– your eyelids are leaden — 78 –” The tape was loose enough around her chest and shoulders that, with some effort, she was able to lean down toward her arm and grasp the cannula in her teeth. “– breath deeply — 62 –“ The medical tape tore away as she yanked the needle from her arm. The cannula was an injured bird fluttering in her mouth, she took a deep breath and it was inanimate plastic and metal again. Using the sharp end of the catheter as an improvised tool, she began scoring the duct tape with repeated passes of the needle. “– 50 — 49 — 48 –“ When the needle broke lose from its plastic sheath Marguerite spit it out (fly, birdie, fly) and wrenched at her bonds. The adhesive tore at her skin but the tape split at one edge spurring her to pull harder “– 32 — 31 — 30 –” all at once her arm sprung free of her bonds. In another moment she freed her other arm. “– 22 — 21 — 20 –“ She looked around, eyes landing on his coat.
Seconds later, she was shoeless, creeping across the wooden floor to the kitchen threshold. “– 12 — 11 — 10 –” Harold sat at his kitchen table, a cigar between his thumb and forefinger of his left hand, the rum glass balancing precariously in his right hand, which nearly touched the floor. He was looking through veranda doors, at the setting sun.
For a second, Marguerite looked too. Red, orange, pink, purple…swirling together, like… “– 7 — 6 — 5 –“
She snapped back to reality. The knife in her hand, she stepped forward and grabbed Harold by his hair. Pressed the catch. Flicked her wrist. Remembered her training.
“– 3 — 2 — 1.”
Would a former (current?) spy really take milk + sugar in her black tea? Would she even drink tea at all??? I hope these burning questions are addressed in a future piece!!!
Intense. I’m hooked and waiting for the sequel or prequel, totally intrigued.
Damn engaging work, sir!
Gripping!! I was totally surprised and buoyed by the ending. I love the way you turned the tables in an instant. I was left wanting to know more about both characters– totally hooked.