Lafcadio - Part 9

Part 9: The Glurpy Slurpy Best-of-All

(Continued from Part 8: End of the Line)

Author: Shel Silverstein

It was a restless night for all of us. Even though I was exhausted, thanks to my middle-of-the-night wake-up call the night before and all the stress leading up to this day, I barely slept. Of course, it didn’t help that my bunk mate was a virtual symphony of snorts, gargles, and the occasional nonsensical outburst (“Who the fuck killed Cock Robin?”).  I had forgotten that about Newton.

I grab a quick shower while there’s still hot water, and head out to the living room. To my surprise, Maggie is already there, looking as fresh as a daisy. Albeit it a somewhat colorless one: she’s dressed completely in black. Her black pants, turtleneck, and blazer have the odd effect of making her look both sexy as hell and formidable. Her red hair is once again pulled back, but in a more severe style than yesterday. No fetching tendrils curl around her face today. The lady looks like she means business.
“I made coffee.” She offers a small smile over the magazine she’s holding. “Couldn’t find any food, though. We didn’t even leave a pizza crust.”
“Coffee sounds good. Thanks.”
As I’m returning from the kitchen, Morales and Patterson join us.
I’m going to run down to the deli across the street and get some bagels,” Morales says. I’ll meet you guys downstairs in the office. You can leave your gear here, just in case.”
Patterson adds, “I don’t anticipate anything going wrong, but…”
Nothing will go wrong,” Maggie interrupts in a firm voice. There is a tone to her voice that I haven’t heard before. What happened to the sweet girl who picked me up in Penn Station?
“No, probably not. But just in case, we might need to hunker down here for a while until we see how things play out.”
Shortly after Morales leaves for the bagels, Paulie Newton stumbles into the living room. “Sleep well, sunshine?” I say sarcastically.
He at least has the good grace to acknowledge the racket he made. “Sorry.”
“Come on, let’s go down to the office. It’s almost show time,” Patterson says. "There's coffee down there."
On the elevator ride down to Carlos’ office, I check my watch. It’s just shy of 7:30am.
Carlos lowers the large screen in front of the elevator.
“I’ll turn on The Morning Show. The interview is supposed to begin at nine,” he says, “but we want to be ready in case there’s any change in scheduling.”
He punches a few keys on one of the computers. Overhead, a ceiling panel drops down with a slight hum, and I see the projector mounted on it come to life. A few more keystrokes, and morning anchor Chuck Kingston’s smiling face fills the screen. “Now, let’s go to Dick for today’s weather. Is it going to be as good as it looks?”
We nibble at the bagels Morales put on the conference table, but none of us really has much appetite. The atmosphere in the room is heavy, the tension palpable. We’ve been making our way to this moment for nearly ten years, ever since we saw Jimmy Flanagan die while singing a goofy kids’ song. Now that we’re here, our nerves are buzzing like high tension power lines. All of us are bowed by the unbearable weight of gravitas. Trying, and failing, to keep the conversation light, we talk about sports and the upcoming Super Bowl. But our focus isn’t on it, though. I’m sure each of us is looking inward, running over our pieces of the plan, looking for flaws.   
“It’s half past eight, time to break for your local news, folks,” Kingston announces from his studio desk. “We’ll see you on the other side.”
“And that’s my cue.” Maggie jumps up, and reaching under her blazer, pulls out a lethal looking Glock. She quickly checks it, then shoves it back into its concealed shoulder holster.
“See you later,” she says, and steps though the door that leads up to the stacks above.
Stunned into silence, we all sit there, our mouths gaping. All except Ed Patterson, that is.
“Yeah, about that…” He gives us a moment, then continues. “I told you she was our secret weapon.”
“And now for our feature interview of the day. We’re joining Michael Andros at the mid-town office of Alcázar Sentinel Security.” As Chuck Kingston speaks, the image on the screen switches to the outside of Alcázar’s headquarters on Madison Avenue. “What can you tell us about the building, Michael”
Standing on the sidewalk in front, Michael Andros gives the camera a brief overview of the six-story building that was home to the historic Villard town houses.  The tower behind this was built as a hotel, once reigned over by the famed ‘Queen of Mean,” Andros says.
The image switches to Kingston in the studio, who says, “And right after the break, Adam Knight, the CEO and founder of the company is going to give us a glimpse into the inner workings of the leading security firm in the world.”
“Oh, yeah, we’ll get a glimpse into the inner workings, all right,” Morales growled. “And Lafcadio takes aim.”
“I’m here in Adam Knight’s office, Michael Andros says. “Thank you for allowing us this rare opportunity to visit this magnificent place.”
Knight strides into camera view, his arm outstretched to shake hands with Andros. He is dressed in what looks to be an expensive bespoke tailored suit from Italy. He’s groomed to a fare-thee-well, from his styled hair to his manicured fingernails. Everything about him screams wealth.
“And who says crime doesn’t pay?” Morales says with a look of disgust on his face.
“My pleasure, Mike. Mi casa es su casa.” Grinning like the pompous ass that he is, Knight waves his arm around, gesturing at the opulence he works in daily. “Please come in.”
“See, didn’t I tell ya?” Paulie smirks. “The Sultan of Brunei would be at home in that fucking place.”
Knight leads the reporter over to a seating area and, chuckling, introduces several men seated nearby as the “the brains behind the brain.”
Oh, give me a fucking break,” I mutter.
Patterson comments, “I told you they’d be there.”
Knight and Andros take their seats in gilt-encrusted chairs that resemble thrones more than anything.
“Adam, tell us a little about Alcázar Sentinel Security,” Andros begins.
And then all hell breaks loose.
We stare at the screen as the camera lens swings from the seating area to the office door, which has just burst open, spilling in a large group people in black jackets emblazoned in yellow with the letters FBI. Several of them are carrying weapons. In the middle of the group, I see Maggie Murphy, a fierce look burning in her eyes, her Glock aimed right at Adam Knight. There’s a lot of shouting and confusion caught by the camera which is jerking around the scene, and then the feed cuts back to a very shocked looking Chuck Kingston.
“Ladies and gentlemen, I’m sure you are wondering, as we in the studio are, what just happened in the offices of Alcázar Sentinel Security. We’ll fill you in as soon as we know anything. In the meantime, let’s get the latest on the Super Bowl planning from our sports guy in New Orleans, Susanna Baker. Susanna?”
Patterson reaches over to the computer and closes the program bringing us The Morning Show.  The screen goes white.

Cheers have erupted in Carlos Morales’s office. There’s a lot of back-slapping. “We got ‘em, Jimmy. We got ‘em!” Paulie shouts. “The show is over!”
When things calm down, I turn to Patterson. “OK, you want to tell us about Maggie now? Is she really Jimmy’s cousin?” As I say this, I’m thinking that if she isn’t, the lady is one hell of an actress.
“Yeah,” Paulie exclaims. “I thought she was going to blow his fucking face off.” He grins. “Come to think of it, wouldn’t that have been appropriate? What goes around, comes around. Lafcadio, the Lion Who Shot Back.”
“Oh, she’s his cousin, alright, but that’s not why I contacted her,” he responds. “She’s also FBI Bureau Chief of the New York Regional office. That’s why I contacted her.
“I decided long ago that we needed someone inside law enforcement if we were going to take Alcázar down. Who better than a bureau chief who just happens to have a vested interest in seeing Knight get his just desserts?
Amid a barrage of questions, he fills us in. Once Maggie had agreed—indeed, pleaded—to come on board with Lafcadio, she became our conduit of information to the people who knew what to do with it. She fed the powers-that-be just enough information, provided by us, of course, to get a task force formed. A task force she headed up.
Thanks to Morales’ computer skills to access the electronic data and Newton’s access to the physical information in the building--both supplemented here and there as needed—we gave the task force everything they needed to begin to build a damning case against Knight, his minions, and Alcázar Sentinel Security. And what a case they built. Alcázar had broken a lot of laws, both domestic and international, including murder and treason. They were going down. Oh, yeah, they were going down for a long, long time.
Maggie doesn’t return until late afternoon. She lets herself in through the doorway we had first entered the day before, looking a little worse for wear, but very proud of herself. The guys all jump up and hug her, applauding her, throwing a barrage of questions at her. I let them finish congratulating her, and then walk over. I pull her close and gave her a big old glurpy slurpy kiss.
“This one’s for you, Lafcadio!”

The End

(Credit, and thanks, to author Shel Silverstein.) 


Posted for River of Mnemosyne Challenge No. 8, Muse 2: "The Unbearable Weight of Gravitas."


Lafcadio - Part 8

Part 8: End of the Line

(Continued from Part 7: The Dark Web)

“It’s open.”
I recognize Morales’ voice. Pushing the door open, I see Patterson, Morales, and Newton sitting around the office beyond. It’s obviously Morales’, as he is slumped in the only comfortable chair in the room. Patterson is sitting on a hard side chair, and Newton has pulled up a cardboard box that looks to be collapsing under his weight. Looks like our Paulie left his fighting weight back in the Corps.
I let Maggie enter ahead of me, and we both drop our bags in the pile of others near the door. She then steps aside, as the rest of us exchange that weird bro-hug thing that guys do. Then Patterson pulls Maggie over and gives her a peck on the cheek.
“I see you found her, Cameron.”
I smirk. “It’s more like she found me, as you well know, smartass.”
I turn to the others, whose faces reflect their confusion at the unknown beautiful woman in our midst. “Guys, this is Maggie Murphy. She is…was… Jimmy Flanagan’s cousin.”
They all speak at once, surprise filling their voices, as recognition dawns. The family resemblance is marked, especially once you know it exists.
I introduce Carlos and Paulie, and then add, “And, of course, you already know Ed.”
Patterson chuckles. “indeed. Maggie is our—and Lafcadio’s--secret weapon.”
The smile on Maggie’s face is intriguing. And now we’re all confused.
“We’ll talk about that later. Right now, let’s put the final touches on it. Tomorrow is the big day.”
Carlos Morales nods. “Come on into my little command center.” He gives Patterson a smirk as he says it. We all know who’s in command here.
He turns and walks over to a door on the opposite side of the small office just as I’m wondering where we are all going to sit. On the other side is a spacious room, looking more like the squad room on a TV cop show than anything else. On one side is a large conference table surrounded by half a dozen desk chairs. Scattered around the rest of the space are several computer stations, too small to be called desks, but big enough to hold a large monitor and some paperwork. Beneath each is a pull-out tray with a keyboard and mouse, and on the floor, a CPU. On two of the walls hang large white boards covered in notations, photographs, and diagrams. The fourth wall has a projection screen hanging in front of it.
“Wow.” Paulie Newton speaks for all of us. Carlos’ little command center ain’t so little.
For the next several hours, we sit around the conference table, talking about what’s going to happen tomorrow and the work that’s led up to it.
“Our go time is just before 9am,” Ed begins. “I’m confident that no one has caught wind of our plans.  I’ve got ears on every phone conversation in Alcázar’s headquarters. And through those phones, I know where all the key players are. So far, it’s business as usual, such as it is.”
“What do you mean?” Maggie asks.
“Well, you know what Alcázar Sentinel Security is.” She nods. “They provide military-style security and training to customers here and abroad. Of course, we know they were in Afghanistan to ‘protect’ the NATO forces we were attached to.” Paulie makes a rude noise at that. “But they’ve got lots of big multi-national corporate clients too, companies worried about kidnappings, theft, technology espionage, etc.”
“Talk about having the fox guard the hen house,” I comment.
“Right. Because, yes, Alcázar is just as billed. But they are so much more. Their client roster offers a buffet of bounty laid out for the taking, just like the opium trade in Afghanistan. Needless to say, business as usual is quite profitable for our friend Adam Knight.”
Maggie looks at Patterson. “So, if Alcázar is all that, how are you able to bug their phones undetected? I would think their security would be a huge obstacle.”
Ed smiles. “I haven’t bugged the phones, Maggie. ‘Bugged' isn’t quite the right word, but I bugged their freaking towers. So to speak.”
Morales laughs. “Adam Knight is no match for Mr. Telecom Patterson here. Conquering stumbling blocks is easier when the conqueror Is in tune with the infinite. Except Ed here wrote the tune. Maybe we should call him Pa Bell.”  
“And speaking of key players,” Ed adds, “Knight is in town, happily ensconced in his office. Right where we need him to be. Good work on that, Corcoran.” He’s referring to the interview that I’ve arranged for Knight. It’s to be filmed in his office tomorrow morning and aired on the evening news. The man never passes up a change to get his face in front of the camera.
Paulie Newton pipes up. “Not that it matters, but speaking of his office… You should see the fucking place.” He pauses to offer a gesture of apology to Maggie.
“No problem, Paulie,” she says. “I’ve heard worse.” As she speaks, she gets up to look at the white boards.
He goes on. “The ceiling has a mural painted on it, with this giant crystal chandelier thing hanging from the center. And there is gold all over the place, on walls, the furniture, even the fixtures in the frigging bathroom. It is fucking ugh-ly.”
“Just so long your personal touches to the décor are in place,” Patterson says.
“No worries in that regard.” Newton winks. “All taken care of.”
Patterson turns to Morales. “How about your digital décor, Carlos? Everything good?”
“Yep. All set and ready to go. I’ve drawn a diagram on the board over there, showing all the connections. It’s like a system of hidden tunnels. Very commando of me, if I do say so myself.”
“I was just looking at that. It’s fucking brilliant.” Maggie winks at Paulie as she says it. “I’m impressed.”
Newton gets to his feet, and gives his best Lord Plushbottom bow to Maggie.
After my long day, fueled by only a blueberry scone and the hot dog Paulie had run out to buy from a Sabrett’s cart on Fifth, I’m starving, and pretty damned tired. I can tell the others are feeling the same way, and Patterson takes notice.  

Before winding things up for the day, he suggests we check the boxes and make sure we are good to go. He and Morales take seats at a computer, and soon their fingers are flying over the keyboards.

"I see no footprints in any of the systems I've used for my bit," Carlos Morales says. "Everything looks good. Hard to spot, easy to find," he chuckles. "At least with the map we're gonna give 'em."

"Excellent." Ed Patterson scrolls though several screens of data on his monitor. "Call logs show nothing out of the ordinary. And Knight is in the residence. I won't bother checking on the others. The interview tomorrow will be a command performance. They'll be there."

"I'm sure they will," I comment. "The man loves an audience."

"I've got nothing much to add," Paulie says. "I checked everything I put in place last night after hours. It's all right where I left it."

"Good. Maggie, are you ready?"

She winks, and reaching down to pat the purse at her feet, says, "Sure am. I can't wait."

The others and I look at each other, eyebrows raised. None of us know her role yet, but I'm sure we'll find out. Patterson must have his reasons. He always does.

With a clap of his hands, he announces, "OK, I think that's it. Good work, everyone. Carlos, I believe you’ve arranged for dinner and our accommodations?”

“Yes, indeed. Grab your bags, and follow me.”
He walks over and raises the projection screen, revealing a small elevator behind it. We all crowd in, no small feat, what with our bags and coats. Morales pushes a button and up we go. When the door opens, we find ourselves in an apartment on the top floor. I’d heard about these “secret” library apartments, established by Carnegie for the custodians who had to tend the library’s coal furnace back in the day. There was one in every branch, but most have either been repurposed or fallen into disrepair. But here in the main library, the apartment has not only been maintained, it has been expanded and refurbished. Pretty damn sweet, far better than my walk-up in the Village.
“Here you go. Welcome to one of New York’s best kept secrets.” Morales leads us in with a sweep of his arm. “There are three bedrooms. The guys will bunk up two to a room, and, Maggie, you’ll take the other. Both rooms have a bath.”
“Not too shabby,” Paulie Newton says with a grin as he wanders around the living room. "Not too shabby at all.”
“I’ve ordered pizza to be delivered to the catering kitchen downstairs. While I run down and get it, help yourselves to a beer. The refrigerator’s stocked.”
After we’ve eaten every morsel of pizza, and possibly part of the boxes, Patterson raises his bottle.

“This is it, guys, the end of a long path to justice. I think we’ve done it. Tomorrow we can finally put the end to Adam Fucking Knight and his merry band of criminals. Here’s to Jimmy, the Lion Who Shot Back, and the end of the line.”
“To Jimmy and the end of the line! Lafcadio!” 

To be concluded in Part 9: The Glurpy Slurpy Best-of-All

(Credit, and thanks, to author Shel Silverstein.) 


Posted for River of Mnemosyne Challenge No. 8, Muse 8: “Conquering the Stumbling Blocks Comes Easier When the Conqueror Is in Tune with the Infinite.”


Lafcadio - Part 7

Part 7: The Dark Web

(Continued from Part 6: Underface)

Maggie and I finish our coffee and hit the streets again. It’s almost ten, but we are only a few blocks from the library.
We pick our way around the small crowd lined up outside Macy’s waiting for the doors to open at ten. As soon as we are clear—well, as clear as you can be on the sidewalks of midtown Manhattan on a weekday morning—I resume our conversation.
“So, let’s go back to why you’re here again? And how?” I prompt.
Since we are close to the library, this seems an important thing to know. She seems to be much more clued in than I am, including knowing where to find me and that our destination is the library.
“Well, when I met with Ed Patterson, he kind of filled me in about the goings-on with your little band of mischief makers.”
Goings-on? Mischief makers?
“I know you guys are convinced that Adam Knight is responsible for Jimmy’s death, and are spinning quite the web to trap him. When I heard that, I asked if I could play too. I mean, how could I not?”
I’m taken aback by her words. Patterson didn’t tell her everything, obviously, but he told her enough. Maybe too much. Let’s be real here; we are a bit more than “mischief makers” and this is no game. If this goes sideways—and given the capabilities of Alcázar, very possible—we could all end up in the hoosegow. Though I’m sure Maggie would look lovely in orange, I’d hate to see that happen. What is Ed thinking?
“But how’d you find me this morning? Even I didn’t know I was going to Penn Station when I left my apartment.”
“Oh, come on, Matt. Have you met Ed Patterson?” Her words are dripping with sarcasm. “You do know what he does for a living, right?”
And then it hits me. Okay, yeah, I’m a bit slow this morning, but hey, I’ve been up since ages ago.
The fucking phone.
A few years ago, my mail delivery included a package from some toy company in the Midwest I’d never heard of. Inside the colorful inner packaging was a cell phone. The screen image on the phone said, “Keep me close.” I couldn’t wake the phone up from its slumber, and for a while I thought it might be actually be a toy. Until the day it rang. I pressed the call button, and found Ed Patterson on the line. He explained during the conversation that the phone was an “off the grid” model (uh-huh), one of only a few. It didn’t take much wondering on my part to know where the others were. I don’t know what Patterson’s job at Galaxy is, but apparently, it enabled him to come up with this nifty little Star-Trekkian communicator.
The phone was for Lafcadio, he told me, and I was to use it only to receive calls until further notice. I assume the others were told the same thing. A few months later, a text on the phone told me where to go for the next meeting, the one in Mississippi.
At the last meeting, Ed told us we could use the phone to call each other, but only in the event of an emergency. Fortunately, that has not been necessary. We are approaching objective, and so far, everything has gone according to plan, thank you very much.
I raise my eyebrows at her. “The phone.”
“You got it.”
I realize that Ed has been keeping tabs on me—on all of us, probably—through the GPS on the phone. Even when I got that Big-Brother-ish text this morning, it didn’t occur to me to question how he knew I hadn’t left yet.
“Of course. So, he sent you and the window dressing to Penn Station to accidentally meet me.” She nods. “But why?”
Before answering, she reaches into the pocket of her coat and pulls out a cell phone identical to mine. She holds it up so I can see the text message displayed on the screen: “Lafcadio awaits.”
She grins. “Because I’m going with you. I’m in.”
“But what about your family? Your job?” I ask as we approach the front of the library on Fifth Avenue.
“The only family I have now is Aunt Kathleen, Matt. Somehow, I think she’d want me to do this for Jimmy.”
She’s right. If Kathleen Flanagan knew that it wasn’t the Taliban that killed Jimmy, but an American who’d been there purportedly to protect him, she’d be all for this. Shit, with the Irish temper I’d seen flare up on occasion, she’d probably want to be a part of operation Lafcadio too.
“And your job?”
“You let me take care of my job.”
I catch a tiny glimpse of the same Irish temper in Maggie Murphy as she squares her shoulders and heads up the steps between the lions guarding the library’s entrance. Patience and Fortitude. Fitting, no? Lafcadio is no doubt right at home.
Inside, the library reading room is dim, except for reading lamps on the tables that fill the space between the stacks. As it always does, the room takes my breath away. I’ve been briefed on where to go once inside, and apparently Maggie has too, because she heads with purpose for a staircase that leads down to the ground level floor.
At the bottom of the stairs, we pause a moment to get our bearings, then spot the sign above a room in the far-left corner. “Children’s Reading Room.”
When Paterson first filled us in about this part of the plan, I’d thought it was perfect. What better place to kick off Lafcadio than in the den where the Lion Who Shot Back lives.
Surprisingly, the room is empty, but when we get inside, I can see why. There is a large poster just inside the doorway announcing the showing of a children’s film in the meeting room behind the space. Laughter drifting toward us confirms my deduction.
We wander along the stacks in the room, reading titles, until we come to the shelf holding a collection of Shel Silverstein books. Jimmy would have been in heaven in this room. He loved children’s books, and Silverstein was his favorite.
Maggie stoops, and points to several books on the bottom shelf. Lafcadio. There are seven of them. I count four from the left, and pull the book out. But we don’t take it. I put it on one of the Lilliputian reading tables, and we leave the room.
“This way.” I take the lead and, following Patterson's directions, take the corridor deeper into the bowels of the building to an door into the massive stacks at the back. The room is very brightly lit, which makes me nervous, but there's no one around. When we get to the row Patterson had designated, nearly smack in the middle of the stacks, we see a door standing ajar from the stack on our left. It’s one of those cool bookcase doors, shelves of books on the outside that make it invisible when closed. The opening mechanism was triggered when I pulled the Lafcadio book from its place.
“Ah, our portal,” Maggie says.
We step through the opening, and I pull the door closed behind us. We’re instantly plunged into darkness. Lest we take a header, I pull out my phone, my personal phone, and click on the flashlight app to light our way down the stairs. Maggie takes my hand as we navigate our way to the bottom, where there is just one door.
I take a breath, and knock.

Continued in Part 8:The End of the Line.

(Credit, and thanks, to author Shel Silverstein.) 


Posted for River of Mnemosyne Challenge No. 8, Muse7: “When the Door is Ajar.”


Lafcadio - Part 6

Part 6: Underface

(Continued from Part 5: Masks)

Some might say Operation Lafcadio was like a ballet, each part danced with finesse. But we’re Marines; we don’t dance any fucking ballets. Personally, I prefer to think of Lafcadio as a suspense thriller, but then, I’m a writer, so of course I would. Actually, it’s more like a symphony, with each section of the orchestra—that's the four of us—playing its own part of the score. As the writer in the group, my job was as composer. I’d rather have a scriptwriter credit, but that would be mixing my metaphor.  
My challenge was to move us toward our finale along unexpected, and hopefully unconnected, routes. The ultimate measure of our success would not be taking down Knight and his bastion of jackbooted mercenaries, though that’s the objective, but to do so without landing ourselves in prison. Thus, my score is a series of interlocking movements. If I‘m successful for once in my writing career, they will all come together in a crashing crescendo.
Ed Patterson, as I’ve mentioned, is our conductor, making sure we are on point and in tune with the others. In keeping with maintaining our seemingly unconnected roles in this operation, we have had no direct contact with each other. Not since we said goodbye at Logan nine years ago, other than a few meetings in out-of-the-way places. Individually, we’ve each visited Kathleen Flanagan from time to time (who is doing fine these days, I’m happy to report, and is planning to marry in a few months), but never together after the first time following Jimmy’s death.  
All our communication goes through Patterson, who is, after all, a telecom expert.  Shortly after he left the Marines, he joined Galaxy Communications, part of the giant family tree descended from Ma Bell.
Early on, “invitations” to meetings came in bizarre costume. The first was a letter offering me a free weekend at a resort in the Virgin Islands if I would attend a sales presentation for a time share in St. Croix. Since I knew the Lafcadio calls to meet would come in disguise, I accepted the offer and went to the resort. Along with a change of clothes, bathing suit, dopp kit, and camera, my carry-on held a small laptop and three thumb drives of tourist information about the Virgin Islands. I’d also loaded my encrypted action plan to date onto the drives. As I boarded the plane, I hoped I wasn’t spending my hard-earned (though hardly-earned would be more accurate) cash to sit through a boring sales pitch.
Two meetings followed during the next few years, one at a Habitat for Humanity house build in East Overshoe, Mississippi, and one at an electronics trade show in Chicago. Each time, I brought the next movement in the Lafcadio piece to the others. The last was close to home for me and Patterson, here in New York. There were just a few loose ends to tie up. The plan was coming together.
Patterson continued to avail himself of some of the advantages of working at Galaxy. Let’s just say, the NSA had nothing on him when it came to access to inside information.  Adam Knight couldn’t sneeze without Ed Patterson saying “Gesundheit.” It became obvious that Alcázar’s involvement in criminal activity didn’t end with Afghanistan. That would help us immensely.
While Patterson kept his ear on things telephonically, so to speak, Carlos Morales was putting his not insignificant computer skills to work picking the lock on the back door into Alcázar’s network. Sitting at his desk in a quiet, all-but-hidden corner of the main branch of the New York Public Library, he was wandering the digital hallways of Knight’s fortress, poking his head into any room he chose. The first thing he did once inside was build himself what he called a secret trapdoor so he’d never have to use their back door again. He’s visited again and again, mapping the comings and goings of the company’s bits and bytes.
Paulie Newton’s access to Alcázar’s hallways is grounded in physical reality rather than the virtual reality that is host to Morales’ visits. About eight years ago, Alcázar turned some of its nefariously earned wealth into real estate. When the former Helmsley Palace came on the market, they snatched it up. Fitting, if you ask me. The hotel may have had the appearance of a palace, but the queen who once lived inside was reportedly a witch. Alcázar left the façade, but tricked out the interior with gilt and ivory, turning it into a true alcázar to house the company headquarters. In both cases, the pretty face hid the face of evil lurking beneath. Our Paulie is the building manager. How great is that?
And me? Well you know what I do. I write.
My new-found companion and I leave Penn Station, her arm linked through mine, and head up 7th Avenue. As we walk, I find myself feeling totally comfortable, as though we’ve walked through the city arm-in-arm before. I feel like I know her, really odd since I’d just met her for the first time 15 minutes earlier.
By the way, my name is Margaret, Maggie for short, Murphy. And I know your name.” She says. “But, have you figured out who I am yet?"

I turn to face her, astonished. “No! How could I know who you are?”
As I speak, my feelings of familiarity are telling me that I should know who she is. But I’m certain I’ve never even heard her name before. It just isn’t coming to me.
“Think about it.” We continue walking as I do. Think about it, I mean.
After we cover a half block, she adopts a different voice and, not looking at me, recites:
“Underneath my outside face
There's a face that none can see.
A little less smiley,
A little less sure,
But a whole lot more like me.”
I stop dead in my tracks.
Swinging around to look at her again, more closely this time, I see it. Jimmy Flanagan.
“But… Jimmy was an only child!”
“Yes. We were cousins, but we may as well have been siblings. We were inseparable as kids. We lived just down the block from each other. Aunt Kathleen is my mom’s twin sister and our families did everything together--holidays, vacations, you name it. Jimmy and I were joined at the hip during the summers.  Well, we were until my dad got transferred to Seattle. And then Uncle Mickey got killed in a car accident. I didn't see much of Jimmy after that.”
I see tears forming in her eyes, and ask if she’d like to sit down. “Could we? It’s still early, and I could really use a coffee.” She nods toward the Starbucks on the corner.
The place is jammed, but as we walk in, a couple gets up and leaves. While Maggie snags the table, I go up to the counter and buy us two coffees and a couple of blueberry scones.
“OK” I say after I’ve settled into my chair, “tell me. What are you doing here?” Given the pack of people all around us, I keep my voice low.
“Well, like I said, Ed sent me.”  She takes a bite of the scone, followed by a sip of coffee, and moans a little. “Sorry, but I didn’t have breakfast. This tastes so good.”
I can’t take my eyes off her. Now that I know who she was, I see Jimmy in her face. Except she’s much prettier. No wonder I’ve been feeling so comfortable with her.
“Go on”
“Ed contacted me a while back. He told me how you guys hung out with Jimmy in Afghanistan, that you were with him when he died. When he asked if we could get together, I jumped at the chance.”
As she speaks, I quickly look around, but it seems no one is taking notice of us. The hum of conversation in the coffee shop masks our low voices.
She pauses to take another sip of her coffee, and regain her composure. When she looks up at me again, her face has softened and her smile is even warmer, if that’s possible.
Just as she speaks, everyone seems to pause at the same time to take a drink or chew their muffin. In the ensuing silence, her words fill the void, and several of the strangers around us smile. Except me. If I thought she couldn’t shock me again, I was wrong.
“He was my first great love, you know. He gave me my first kiss.”

She gives that a moment to sink in, then, eyes twinkling, she continues, “Of course, we were only five.”

Continued in Part 7: The Dark Web.

(Credit, and thanks, to author Shel Silverstein.) 


Posted for River of Mnemosyne Challenge No. 8, Muse 6: “Telling a Roomful of Strangers about My Love Life.


Lafcadio - Part 5

Part 5: Masks

(Continued from Part 4: Barooom!)

Author: Shel Silverstein

We all landed back in the States at pretty much the same time. When we got leave, our first order of business was to pay Jimmy’s mom a visit. Jimmy had asked us to look after her, and we had every intention of doing that.
Kathleen Flanagan lived outside of Boston in Natick, the town where Jimmy grew up. The four of us met up at Logan Airport and rented a car. As I drove us out the Mass Pike, Carlos asked, “Do you think she knows about Jimmy’s secret life over there in the desert?”
“No,” Ed said, “and we’re not going to tell her. Jimmy ‘was killed by the Taliban,’ and that’s how it will stay. Let’s not make it worse on her.
The visit was a painful one. Jimmy’s mom was so glad to see us, and eager to talk about Jimmy. We sat around her gingham-covered kitchen table, on which she’d spread tea and shortbread cookies, and shared stories about our friend. Jimmy being the clown he was, it was easy to keep the stories light. It wasn’t so easy to look past the pain in his mother’s eyes.
Paulie was in the middle of doing a lousy imitation of Jimmy reciting one of his favorite kids’ poems, when Kathleen Flanagan suddenly exclaimed, ”Oh! I almost forgot!”  
She jumped up and rushed from the room, leaving us looking at each other and wondering what was up. She was back in a minute, carrying a cardboard box.
“There are three more of these. Come on, boys, make yourselves useful.”
We followed her into what was obviously Jimmy’s room, still looking as if he’d just left it yesterday. I suspected it would look like that for a long time. Ed, Paulie, and I each picked up a box from the bed and carried it out to the kitchen.
“These are for you. Jimmy tells me…" She stopped and swallowed hard. "Jimmy told me how much you enjoy his stories. I can tell he was right. I know he would want you to have these.”
I pried open the flap on one of the boxes and, inside, found a collection of children’s books.
“Oh, no, we couldn’t…” Ed began, but she held up her hands to stop him.
“I’ll have none of that. I insist. You boys were his best friends. And you’re young; someday you’ll have kids of your own. Passing these on to you is the best tribute to Jimmy I can imagine.”
She paused to blink back the tears that filled her eyes.
“Besides, I’ll never have any grandchildren to read them, and it’s too hard for me to have them around. So, take them. You’ll be doing me, and Jimmy, a favor.”
How could we say no? Promising to stay in touch, we loaded the boxes into the car, kissed her goodbye, and headed back to the airport.
On the drive, we talked about the plan we’d come up with in Afghanistan. Operation Lafcadio.  We’d each taken on an assignment. Well, let me rephrase that. Ed had given us each an assignment--old habits die hard--which we enthusiastically accepted.
He went over it again. “This stuff is just field prep, guys. If we are going to get to Knight, we need to have our ducks in a row. Once we get all the intelligence we need, then we can refine the plan. The primary target is Knight. But if we do this right, we’ll bring Alcázar down with him.
That sounded good to the rest of us. We agreed to meet in a year or so to compare notes.
“I’ll be in touch,” Ed said, “and give you the where and when."
The redhead sits down in the empty chair, puts her travel bag at her feet, and carefully folds her coat over her lap. Then she turns to me. A 100-watt smile lights up her face. There’s… she seems familiar somehow.
A jolt of something like recognition warms me. I know I’ve never seen her before. No way would I have forgotten this woman. The red hair that frames her face is pulled back into a loose knot at the nape of her neck. Tendrils that have managed to escape curl softly against skin that brings all manner of clichés to mind. I settle on peaches and cream.  The blue of her dress brings out the color of her eyes, which seem to dance with mischief as she leans over and kisses me.
Smiling at me, she says, “Hi, Matt. Sorry I'm late.”
I nearly fall off my chair.
Still smiling, she whispers, “Sssh, relax. We want to look normal, right?”
And then she winks.
Whoa. There is nothing fucking normal about this. I try to smile back at her in some kind of natural way, but I have a feeling I look like I’m grimacing around the pickle in my mouth.

I’m still reeling from the first blow when she winds up and delivers the second one.
“Ed sent me.”
“Ed…Ed Patterson?”

The lighthearted look she's worn on her face slips, revealing something serious beneath as she nods.

Ed fucking Patterson. Of course he did. If I’ve learned nothing through all this, it’s that Patterson is always one-and-a-half steps ahead of everybody.
My shock is so complete, I struggle to keep my mask of nonchalance in place.
I take a deep breath. “OK, I’m thinking there's something going on here that I don’t know about. We should talk, yeah?” I gesture to the crowd of commuters circling the station like fish in an aquarium.  “But not here. Can you leave your companions…?”

A glance down the row to the now empty seats brings me to a halt. Eyebrows raised, I shoot a questioning look at her.
“Stage props, Matt,” she replies. “Ed thought it would be a good idea.”
Yes, I’m sure he did.
“Let’s make our way to the library,” she says, surprising me again “I’ll explain everything on the way.”

Continued in Part 6: Underface.

(Credit, and thanks, to author Shel Silverstein.) 


Posted for River of Mnemosyne Challenge No. 8, Muse 5: “Alcázar Down


Lafcadio - Part 4

Part 4: Barooom!

(Continued from Part 3: Something Silly, Something Gone)

Credit Shel Silverstein

We finally got down to it about three weeks after Jimmy was killed. It was a clear moonless night, with the kind of sky you rarely see anywhere but the desert. It looked like black velvet with a bucketful of diamonds strewn across it.  Below, the blackness was even more complete. As we sat in our usual spot under the outcropping, we could just make out the shapes of the guys sitting right next to us. It seemed like a good time to talk about the note.
In a voice barely above a whisper, Paulie began the conversation. “Anybody got any idea what Jimbo was up to? I mean, if there were anyone I would less suspect of being involved in any kind of black ops, it would be Jimmy Flanagan. I’m surprised he even knew what it was.”
He was met with a silence as deep as the darkness. None of us had a clue. Jimmy was like a big happy puppy. Saying his name and Alcázar in the same sentence was unimaginable.
“Well, whatever it was, it sounds like he stumbled onto something he shouldn’t have. Must have been pretty damning to make them kill him,” Carlos said.
Ed raised a hand. “Hold on,” he said in a voice dripping with sarcasm. “They’re blaming the Taliban for it. They said the bullet was a .303, shot from a Lee Enfield. If they’re right, that’s Taliban all the way.”
“Uh-huh,” I replied. “And if your aunt had wheels, she’d be a trolley car.”
Had Jimmy not had the foresight to leave us the note now in my boot, we might--in fact, probably would--have bought that story.  But we sure as hell didn’t now.
So, what to do about it?
Over the next several weeks, we hatched a rough plan. We were all in agreement. We didn’t want justice. No. We wanted revenge. Revenge for Jimmy was justice in our book. No point in trying to convince anyone of what Jimmy had told us. To begin with, we damn well didn’t want to paint targets on our backs. Besides, we had no evidence of anything. Not that Alcázar had anything to do with Jimmy’s death, or even that they were somehow profiting from the opium trade.
But we knew, and that was enough.
The plan was pretty sketchy, but we were in no hurry. As they say, revenge is a dish best served cold. We had plenty of time to work things out.

Our target was Adam Knight.
Knight was, and still is, the guy who reigns over Alcázar Sentinel Security. And we were going to hunt him down and take him out, the way he’d taken Jimmy Flanagan out. This lion was going to shoot back. 
Operation Lafcadio was officially launched.
Time to get moving again. It’s after eight, and it’s only a fifteen-minute walk or so to the library, but my ass is going to sleep. I’ve been in Penn Station long enough. I’ve been getting up, wandering around, and sitting somewhere else. I’ve read the newspaper three times, done the crossword puzzle, and drunk entirely too much coffee. For the past half hour, I’ve put on a very credible show of impatience, if I do say so myself, as if waiting for a date who didn’t show. My version of method acting. It’s something I have some experience with. But I think I should move on. I know there are plainclothes cops schooling around Penn Station.  I decide to wander the streets a bit as I mosey up toward 42nd Street.
As I’m about to get up, three thirty-something women walk into my row of seats. They are dressed in identical blue suits, and carrying coats and small travel bags. I take them to be flight attendants. Two of them sit across the aisle and down the row a bit. The only other seat available is next to me, and the third, an attractive redhead, makes a beeline for it.
“Excuse me, is this seat taken?”
OK, maybe I don’t need to leave just yet.
I look at my watch again, this time to see how much time I can spare to spend in the company of this woman. Probably more than she has to spend with me.  I’ve had too many women--some of them probably keepers—take off on me, so I’ve gotten used to it. When the girls are gone, I just move on.
Doesn’t mean I can’t enjoy it while it lasts.
“Nope, it’s all yours.” I gesture to the spot beside me, smiling. "Have a seat."

Continued in Part 5: Masks. 

(Credit, and thanks, to author Shel Silverstein.) 


Posted for River of Mnemosyne Challenge No. 8, Muse 4: “Whatcha Gonna Do When All the Girls Are Gone”


Lafcadio - Part 3

Part 3: Something Silly, Something Gone

(Continued from Part 2: A Light in the Attic.)

I feel a tear forming. Even after all these years, the memory still hurts. I pull out the faded bandana I keep in my back pocket to use as a handkerchief. Making a show of blowing my nose, I surreptitiously wipe my eyes at the same time. It wouldn't do to cry in the waiting room at Penn Station.
A glance at my watch tells me it's almost 6:30, and the concourse is starting to come to life. I leave my seat and pace around a bit, reading the Arrivals board and checking out the offerings at the newsstand.

Then I head back to the waiting area and sit on the other side of the room. I allow my thoughts to take me back to Afghanistan again.
I should tell you a bit about our group. 

Ed Patterson, the oldest, was a master sergeant with 15 years in. The guy was a natural-born leader, so naturally he led us. He was a sat-com specialist back then. I think he'd intended to be career, but he ended getting his 20, and getting out. When he left the Corps, he went to work for one of the big telecommunications companies.

Carlos Morales, a sergeant, was an interpreter. His native language is English, but the Miami-born son of Cuban immigrants grew up speaking Spanish too. It turned out he had a gift for languages, and the Corps put him through a Pashto course at the language school in California. Not much call for that in back here in the world, I guess, so Carlos is in real estate now.

Paulie Newton, also a sergeant, was in explosive ordnance disposal. When he got out, he ended up working at the New York Public Library running their computer system. He says he'd had enough of noisy work environments, and besides, his hearing was pretty much jacked.

The kid, Jimmy Flanagan, a corporal, was a mechanic.  Who knows what he would have been when he grew up. A teacher, maybe. Or an actor.

And then there's me. I'm Matt Cameron. I was an MP. There was no way I was going to stay in, either in the military or in police work. So I wrote.


After Jimmy died, something was gone out of it for the four of us left. With all his silliness, he was the light that kept us keeping on. Ed, Paulie, Carlos, and I continued to sit under the outcropping overlooking the poppy fields, but there was no more yukking. There were no more stories and silly poems. There was only silence.  That, and the note that Jimmy Flanagan left behind for us, tucked securely under the innersole of my left boot. 

The next day, we went through Jimmy’s stuff, getting it ready to send back to his mom. We’d met Kathleen Flanagan while we were home, and we all loved her. She was a warm and funny woman with the map of Ireland drawn in freckles on her face. It was easy to see where Jimmy had gotten his personality. She welcomed us into her home as if we were family. And, lord, how she loved her boy. She was a single mom. Jimmy's dad had died in a car crash when Jimmy was only ten, and Jimmy was all she had. We knew she was going to be destroyed when she got the news.
“Hey, look at this,” Paulie, said as we were putting Jimmy’s books into the box. “This is the book about that lion.”
“Read it,” I said, and he did. Blinking away the tears that threatened to spill from our eyes, we listened to Paulie read the story of the lion Grrmmff who came to be known as Lafcadio the Great.
When he got to the end, Paulie turned the final page and a small pink envelop fell out. I bent down and picked it up. Turning it over, I was surprised to see our names on the front.
I held it up, eyebrows raised. “Well, open it, fer crissake, Cameron!” Carlos said.
I lifted the flap and pulled out a piece of folded note paper. It was also pink, decorated with delicate little silver cruets of flowers and teacups with tiny spoons. I wasn’t sure, but I thought it might be giving off a sweet gardenia scent.
And? What’s it say?” Ed demanded.
It wasn’t long. I quickly skimmed, horrified. This was our wet-behind-the-ears buddy Jimmy? No fucking way.
Taking a shaky breath, I read:
“Yeah, yeah, I know, guys” it began. “But it’s all I had. It’s my mom’s paper. She packed a bunch of it with my stuff so I’d be sure to write to her. I’m not writing you a love note or anything. Ha-ha. But in case anything happens to me, there’s something you gotta know.”
The note went on to tell us why he was worried that something might happen to him. Sure, we were all afraid we might get wounded or even killed in Afghanistan. But it turned out that Jimmy’s fears were far more alarming. Seems our Jimmy was secretly liaised to a quasi-military black ops organization called Alcázar Sentinel Security.
“These are bad people,” Jimmy had written. “They’re supposed to be helping protect the NATO forces in Afghanistan, but I found out they’re really in it for the opium. I’m not sure, but I think they know I know. And I’m pretty sure they’ve killed others to protect their interests. There’s a shitload of money at stake.
“There’s no one over here I can tell. If anything happens to me, you guys gotta do something when you get home. And if you can, take care of my mom.”
I folded the pink paper again, thinking how the frivolous silver cruets and tiny spoons on the cover were so incongruous with the dark message inside.
We read Jimmy's words again many times, but by tacit agreement, we didn't discuss it right away. We were still too raw. But we knew we would. We had to; it wasn't something we could ignore. We had to do something.

The question was, what?

 To be continued in Part 4: Barooom!

(Credit, and thanks, to author Shel Silverstein.) 


Posted for River of Mnemosyne Challenge No. 8, Muse 3: "Silver Cruets and Tiny Spoons"

Lafcadio - Part 2

Part 2: A Light in the Attic

(Continued from Part 1: The Call)

Properly chastised by the text displayed against a green background on my phone--"What part of 'go' don't you understand, Cameron? Go NOW!"-- I delay no longer. I'm outta here. At least I won't have to concoct some kind of bullshit story to explain my absence to the lady-of-the-moment. She took care of that quite effectively yesterday.
I hustle down the stairs from my fifth-floor walkup, shrugging my jacket on as I go, and sling the backpack over my shoulders. But when I step out onto the cold street, I realize it's still dark. Shit, I'd forgotten the call came in the middle of the fucking night. This presents a bit of a problem.
My destination, the library at 42nd and Fifth, is closed. I take a quick look at my watch. 4:45. What do I do with the next six or seven hours? The library opens at ten, I think, but I don't want to be the first one through the door. The idea is to remain as inconspicuous as possible, easier said than done at the crack of early on a wintery morning, even in New York.
Near Washington Square, a few blocks away, there's a 24-hour diner. I head that way. I've never been there at this ungodly hour, but figure there must be a night owl or two, and maybe some city workers getting breakfast before they hit the streets.  Hopefully I can pass a hour or so there.
No such luck. Through the steamy glass, I see a lone guy at the counter, a tired-looking beat cop hunched over a plate of eggs. So I get myself a coffee to go, grab a newspaper from the machine at the door, and head for Penn Station.
Reassured by the number of people waiting for an early morning commuter train, I slump down on one of the hard plastic seats in the cavernous concourse. I know I shouldn’t be worried. I mean, only yesterday, I was just a guy trying to make a living as a writer, failing rather spectacularly, I might add. But given what we are about to do, I can’t help myself. I feel like I am wearing a neon sign announcing my intentions.
I close my eyes, and against the backdrop of the headache-induced kaleidoscope of whirling colors and flashes projected inside my eyelids, I let my mind drift back to that day in the desert nearly ten years ago. The day Lafcadio was conceived.
Jimmy Flanagan was too young to drink. Well, legally, anyway. In fact, Jimbo was almost too young to vote.  He definitely was too young to die. But the bullet that took him out couldn’t give a shit.
We were in the Helmand province in southern Afghanistan, sitting under a rocky outcropping overlooking the poppy fields below.  It was just past dusk, and we were taking a break and yukking it up. It had been pretty quiet all day. Even the guys patrolling the fields didn’t seem to be on edge, a rare occurrence. Nothing got the Taliban forces riled up quite like a bunch of jarheads wandering around in their opium supply.
We had all been there before, and in fact, it was there that the five of us became good friends. When we finally went home after our tour, we thanked our lucky stars to be alive, and relaxed. We should have known better. A NATO mission was organized to train and advise local forces (ha, where had we heard that one before?), and our experience in-country sucked us right back into it. We hadn’t expected to find ourselves back in that god-forsaken land, but there we were. Not that we found ourselves doing much training.
Jimmy often entertained us with stories and silly poetry, his freckled Irish face alight with enthusiasm. He was a real fan of children’s books, that kid. You might think it sounds weird, a bunch of Marines listening raptly to kiddie stories, but it really helped break the tension out there in that harsh and dangerous desert. That particular night, he was in the middle of a story about a lion named Grmmff. It had actually been published in Playboy, he was quick to tell us, and it was his favorite. As he often did when he was really getting into it, Jimmy used a goofy voice, this one his interpretation of a marshmallow-loving lion. I'm paraphrasing here, but it went something like this.
“…goes to the barbershop, gets his paws shined, his claws manicured and a free haircut. He has dinner, and eats lots of marshmallow dishes, then finally eats his napkin for dessert. He wears a marshmallow suit, but it gets ironed and it melts all over him. He goes back to the hotel and stays up very late singing the "marshmallow song:
“Marshmallows Marshmallows
Marching Marshing Mellow
Malling Mallows Marshing Fellows
The laughter was torn from our throats as Jimmy’s face exploded mid-song.
A lot of guys would tell you that seeing a buddy die in combat, or maybe anywhere else, made them find religion. Not us. That was the night we lost our souls.

To be continued in Part 3: Something Silly, Something Gone.

(Credit, and thanks, to author Shel Silverstein.) 


Posted for River of Mnemosyne Challenge No. 8, Muse 2: "A Little Death is Good for the Soul"