|Chapter 23: Details
News of Euel Gidarbs true identity and Jack Fleetwoods attempt to kill his wife were revelations that challenged the foundation of STOPIT, the theory and practice of Gidarbing, and the trial of Blue Monday. They would have surely hit the mass communication airwaves with a solid one-two punch if the Law of Unintended Consequences hadn't made international heroines out of Andrea Urlan and Leah Flores.
The longer they stayed in jail, the more popular they became. Normal people en mass were taking to the streets to angrily protest what had happened to them. Therefore, fewer people were as shocked as they might have been if the fate of Charm and the story of what Jack Fleetwood did to his wife had come first. Still, the impact was considerable, though not necessarily pivotal.
To a small but volatile segment of the populace, earlier news about the contents of Hector Clays trunk had already done enough to ignite a social conflagration. Among this volatile minority, the idea that Hector Clay was the victim of a police frame-up had never been questioned. The idea that the Fleetwoods and the Gidarbs were not what they appeared to be had long been an article of faith. The idea that broadcasters like Sam Jinks were their mortal enemies had long been accepted as a simple fact of life. The only things lacking were the details.
All over the country, telewindow viewers were being filled in on those details with consequences varying from innocuous to deadly. For some, the consequences of not being a telewindow viewer were as costly as it gets.
In one Detroit home, a medium-sized, wall mounted T-window with a chrome frame turned itself on in an E room with mint green curtains and an empty, Kelly green, Mediterranean couch. The couch was empty because the occupants of the house were in another room on another floor of the house. They were far from where they might have peeked into any telewindow and seen Detroits T-win 5 Spotlight News.
Those who were watching the news by way of any telewindow station on the CBI network were seeing two new faces in place of the usual network news personalities. One, a stunningly attractive, blue-eyed, mahogany-skinned, African-American woman in her late twenties, the other, a dark-haired white woman in her early forties who was also quite attractive. Even with their subdued makeup, their Softglow business suites and their conservative hair-styles, neither of them resembled most peoples idea of high-powered executives. That, however, is what they were.
Though the faces were new, the names were familiar to those who read the credits of Crime Scene 2000 and kept up with who was who in the business world. A caption at the bottom of the window identified the younger woman as "Mina Foski, acting CBI News Director." The caption under the older woman identified her as "Margaret St. Clair, Vice President of Programming" for the CBI network.
The older woman spoke first, her face set in as serious a manner as a Catholic priest about to give a dying sinner his last rights.
"Hello," she said, "Im Margaret St. Clair, one of the CBI policy makers that you may have heard Sam Jinks allude to earlier this evening. Mr. Jinks is no longer an employee of Condor Broadcasting Incorporated. He was relieved of his position by Midwest district manager and acting news director, Mina Foski. I have every confidence in her judgment and I concurred with her decision. Our CEO, Mr. Leo Frost, agreed with me and, when the full extent of Mr. Jinks improper, clandestine and illegal activities become known, the board of directors will, no doubt, agree with us."
The vice president cleared her throat, pardoned herself, and continued with a growing unsteadiness which, at this point, may have been evident only to the keenest observer.
"Ordinarily," she said, "the news directors decision to terminate a subordinates employment for legitimate cause is sufficient to make it so. That is true regardless of the subordinates length of service, his political connections or his popularity with any special interest group. Mr. Jinks on-air remarks regarding network policy were more than legitimate cause for his dismissal by his acting news director. She would have been negligent in her duty if she hadnt let him go for the reason she did. We are, however, sensitive to the fact that the Foski name is personally and professionally linked to Hector Clay. Thus, the three levels of concurrence in the decision to release Mr. Jinks at this time. I must add, however, that if Ms. Foski hadnt seen fit to fire him, it would have been my duty to discharge both of them."
Tiny beads of perspiration broke out on the nose and forehead of the photogenic CBI vice president, the only perceptible clue to her temporary loss of composure. But even the most observant of viewers would have seen the sweat as evidence of growing difficulty rather than the momentary retreat of her intellectual resources from the onslaught of fear. Some people were better at hiding the true depth of their emotions than others. None was better than Margaret St. Clair.
She paused, drew in her breath and let it out with her next sentence. "Since the death of Hector Clays friend, Aaron McPhail, you may have noticed that commentators like Sam Jinks and NPRs Corey Becket have had few public challengers. With the notable exceptions of Andrea Urlan, Leah Flores and Hector Clay, there have been none. By the same token, you may have noticed that the X Channel has returned to its old practice of featuring credible opponents of the American party in compromising situations."
Again she paused. This time her attempt to conceal her discomfort met with less success. She swallowed hard and pressed on in a low, unsteady voice.
"One of our top CBI programmers who also worked closely with telewindow station WQST in Detroit, uncovered evidence of a criminal conspiracy by Jack Fleetwood and other influential members of the American Party. To insure that the evidence in this individuals possession did not become public, associates of Jack Fleetwood made threats against the reputation of an unnamed CBI executive. In other words, our programmer, whose knowledge of Euel Gidarb's true identity and Jack Fleetwood's assault on Kimberly Fleetwood, was blackmailed to protect someone else from involuntary exposure on the X Channel."
The vice president lifted her chin and steadied her voice. "Only within the hour," she said, "have I been privy to this information...and the fact that Sam Jinks has operational connections to the X Channel. In light of the national crisis stemming from the murder of Estelle Gidarb and the arrest of Hector Clay, I cannot, in good conscience, allow blackmail to have a part in CBIs decision making process. Regardless of the possible embarrassment to any or all of us, we owe it to all of youand us...to uncover and report the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth to the best of our ability. That is what we are going to do."
Margaret St. Clair turned her lovely, flushed face to the right. "... Mina?"
The telewindow camera cut to the younger woman, whose expression was every bit as serious as her vice presidents had been when she started, but decidedly more confident. "Most of you," she said, "are aware of the cataclysmic events taking place all over the country. Condor Broadcasting Incorporated must assume some responsibility for the inflammable reporting of half-truths that may have contributed to the national crisis. We will not, however, be responsible for fanning the flames with uncontested innuendo and rumor to avoid the appearance of impropriety."
Those who didnt know what "cataclysmic events" and "national crisis" Mina Foski was talking about were left hanging, as she said more about the X Channel. Repeating some of what Margaret St. Clair had just said, she added the fact that a man known to most people only as the Fleetwoods family physician, was also involved.
To summarize, she said, "We have gotten independent verification on Euel Gidarbs true identity. Our preliminary reports have been confirmed; the person we knew as Euel Gidarb was, in fact, Euelalia Charmain, the adult entertainer better known as Charm. We know that she was given a partial sex change and a completely new identity 24 years ago by a small team of psychiatrists and surgeons led by Estelle Gidarb. We have some evidence that her memory implants were beginning to break down near the end. Unfortunately, she did not survive the attack on her and Estelle this evening, and we will have to await the completion of detailed time scans to determine the truth. At this time, we can report only that she died under the care of Dr. Rupert L. Gieldgood. He is being sought by local, state and federal officers for questioning in connection with several homicides and attempted homicides including the murders of Aaron McPhail and Blueford Monday."
A window-in-window showed a full-length likeness of the doctor in a slowly revolving field, with vital statistics displayed on one side and a special police hot line flashing over his head.
"This man," said Mina, "is extremely intelligent, resourceful, and dangerous."
Mina Foski then turned the program over to a veteran field reporter familiar to some viewers as the former leader of one of Condors own news-making commando squads, the White Condors. He promptly informed his audience that Attorney General Fleetwood was also missing.
The former Condor commando said, "According to reliable sources at Fleetwood Memorial Hospital in Lansing, Michigan, Mrs. Fleetwoods long sleep is now over. According to the same sources, she had plenty to say about her husbands attempt to kill her, his use of STOPIT as a political expedient, and her fierce opposition to the Gidarbing procedure. Well have more on that when Mrs. Fleetwoods new doctors give the O.K. We understand that she is doing extremely well and we should be hearing from her shortly."
With or without the new revelations about Gieldgood, Aaron McPhail, Blue Monday, the Fleetwoods and the Gidarbs, too much was happening around the same time and place with enormous consequences for too many Americans. The same small circle of people seemed to be in the middle of everything that was moving more people to the margins of the "real America" and insuring that more of those who had never been included would never be included. Something had to give.
The new Condor news team, with a new lineup of reporters and a different idea of where to point the camera, covered the fast-breaking news in-depth. Telewindow viewers throughout the country saw that in some places close to the poverty line, a heated exchange of words often led to a violent exchange of fists. In any telewindow tuned to the news, or programmed to switch to special news reports, viewers got a good look at these neighborhoods. They didnt have to be told that vandalism, assaults and arson were commonplace inside of NEZs. They now saw that within 30 minutes of the news about Estelle Gidarbs head being found in Hector Clays trunk, the borderline communities had absorbed the defining characteristics of the NEZs with a vengeance.
These were the cataclysmic events referred to by Condor programmings Midwest district manager, Mina Foski.
Network news cameras told a 3-D, color, moving picture of the urban unrest. In warm settings like Miami, Houston and LA, they showed street gangs crossing NEZ boundaries to clash in 1950s-style rumbles. Young men and, occasionally, young women, wearing their gang colors on distinctive hats, bandannas, vests, jackets or footwear, went after each other with knives, chains, straight razors and home made clubs. They battled one on one, two on one and three on one in a mad frenzy of killing and maiming rivaling the goriest gladiatorial contests of ancient Rome.
A close look at who was fighting whom revealed a strict breakdown along color lines assigned at berth. Usually, the dividing line could be seen from far away in the form of skin color: black versus white, white versus brown, brown versus yellow, yellow versus black. But in case after case, where poor whites clashed with other poor whites or all-white gangs tangled with rivals of mixed skin color, the telewindow camera had to zoom in close to show the color of their eyes.
The way things appeared in telewindows, the violence tended to be one-sided in colder regions of the country and the weapons of choice more deadly. In the world outside of the windows, the truth could not be so easily determined. North, West, East and South, blue-eyed thugs seizing on rumors of brown-eyed attacks against "real Americans," banded together for firebombing raids and drive-by shootings on brown-eye turf. Brown-eyed thugs did likewise. In short, all it took to be a victim was to be in the wrong place. To find ones self as an outsider in either community or perceived as one, was like waking up from an uneventful dream in a tank full of hungry sharks.
The same patterns emerged in city after city as if actors born to play the same roles at the same time took to the streets on cue. They wore the same styles of clothes. They spoke the same lower class dialects. They roamed the same kinds of lower class streets seeking and destroying objects of their general discontent with society and their particular place in it.
Angry, rampaging mobs armed with baseball bats, breaker bars or table legs attacked people and inanimate objects alike as if they were deadly foes. They smashed car and shop windows, dragged the occupants outside and beat them bloody and senseless. Sometimes, they torched the buildings and the cars.
The earliest reports showed men and women being wrapped in gasoline-soaked American flags and set ablaze by jubilant mobs who dubbed the practice, "hot-flagging." Within minutes of those reports, hot-flagging had become a grisly fad from sea to shining sea. Community leaders appearing on the streets to condemn the practice in front of telewindow cameras were shouted down or ignored. In one case, a brown-eyed, African-American, famous for his business success in a dozens NEZs across the country, was hot-flagged in a declining neighborhood on the outside of an LA NEZ. His charred remains were hacked to pieces and gleefully fed to stray dogs. When the same fate befell a publicity-seeking, blue-eyed, African-American politician preaching peace in Chicago, the hot-flagging stories stopped.
Local telewindow news teams in neighborhoods crackling with automatic rifle fire reported police and fire departments being overwhelmed. Governors of a dozen states mobilize their state militias while a dozen more agonized over the possibility that they might soon be forced to. Large sections of streets looked, sounded and smelled like bombed out battle zones. Not even the quiet residential areas were immune to random acts of violenceor acts of violence calculated to appear random....
Among the few people in America who knew nothing of the upheaval, were Gloria Castleman, the former juror in the Blue Monday obscenity trial, and P.J. Shields, the former Brown Belt Strangler. While Glorias E room telewindow blared out the news, she and P.J. were too involve with making love in her shower to hear it. Their senses tuned only to each other and the music of loves passion mingled with warm water shooting forcefully onto their skins from the tiny holes in the shower head.
The noise from the shower and their own heavy breathing and moaning echoing off the walls was not loud enough to keep out all outside noises. They heard the two distinct sounds of breaking glass and the whoosh of ignited gasoline. But the fidelity of Glorias telewindow sound system kept them from associating the sounds with a heavy rock followed by a Molotov cocktail and a fire blazing in the E room. They didnt see the flames feeding on the mint green curtains and Kelly green Mediterranean couch on the main floor in a frenzy of consumption. They didnt see the flames leaping from place to place in one room after another, like well trained soldiers closing on the enemy and cutting off avenues of retreat.
The fire grew bigger and stronger on the food of polished wood furniture and floors and door jams it devoured. As it danced its dance of death up the stairs with dense, black smoke streaming upward from its flickering orange tips, P.J. and Gloria writhed belly to belly, lips to lips under the shooting spray of water in a naked embrace. Their world existed only within the confines of a steamy 3x 5 stall bounded by a kiwi green and chalk white checkerboard of tiles on three sides and a frosted glass door on the other.
The acrid, evil smell of burnt wood, fabric, plastic and the chemicals they contained made no impression on the love-making pair as the black smoke crawled though the crack in the bottom of the bathroom door. The poisonous black fog raced up the door to the ceiling and across the ceiling where it expanded in volume like an indoor storm cloud and slowly descended as if pulled toward the floor by its accumulating weight.
Only when the bathroom light dimmed to the point of obscuring their vision did a rush of adrenaline prepare them to react. Pulling away from each other, they went into a reflective crouch, mistaking the thickening smoke as an advanced warning of a deadly fire headed their way instead of death itself already upon them. Had the shower stall been airtight, they might have been tempted to stay there and ride it out, but they were already beginning to choke on the smoke. Notwithstanding the fire they couldnt see on the other side of the closed wooden door of the bathroom, they knew they had to get out of the house quickly.
P.J. pushed Gloria to the floor and snatched a face cloth off the rack. God! he thought, Youd think that somebody with no sense of smell would make sure her smoke detectors were working!
He said, "Put this over your face. Im gonna bust out the window!"
Gloria did as she was told, concerned more about the possible loss of her home and its valuable contents than the loss of her life, as P.J. yanked open the glass door. The smoke poured in as P.J. dashed out and his wet, white body disappeared in the dense black fog. My dinette! thought Gloria, between hacking coughs. My old doll house! My new clothes! These were the last thoughts Gloria Castleman would ever have.
Meanwhile, a thoroughly disoriented P.J. tripped over a wrinkle in the non-slip bathroom carpet, and bashed his forehead on the sink on his way to the floor. He landed hard on his knees. When he tried to get up, the back of his head slammed into the bottom of the sink. This time he landed on his face. He tried to draw in one good breath before making another attempt to get to the window without knowing there were no more good breaths left in the room to be taken. He drew in smoke instead, harsh, burning, suffocating smoke. He coughed some of it out and drew more of it in. His chest felt like it would explode. His head grew light. Ive felt worse, he thought.
That was the last thought P.J. Shields would ever have....
On the other side of town, the blaze that was robbing P.J. and Gloria of their lives was contributing its small share to the irritation, if not the distress, of two visitors from Lansing. Fires had lit their way right into the city limits. Now, rolling with the light traffic down an arterial surface street in northwest Detroit, Glen Kaiser and Vera Carr were getting another eyeful. The citys smoke-filled skyline, stretching from due east clockwise to the southwest, glowed red in the night with countless fires burning out of control.
They could see what was happening, but without their telewindow or radio receivers plugged into the world outside of their van, they were at a loss to explain it. Vera turned on the message center telewindow and tuned to the local news channel, T-win 5.
The news channel window opened on a sample of what was going on below the crimson halo as their vehicle maneuvered itself within a mile of their destination. They saw the looting and arson, the gang fights, the drive-bys, the vicious assaults, and the blue and white squad cars and the yellow fire trucks racing about from one literal hot spot to the next. They saw white, grim-faced National Guardsmen reporting to armories in a mixture of civilian clothes and military uniforms, some changing before they left, others as they went and the rest when they arrived. They saw armored vehicles, transport planes and helicopters being readied to go as uniformed troops drew state-of-the-art, multi-function, primary weapons and ammunition.
On the streets and sidewalks outside of Glens van, pedestrians stopped to look toward the horizon as distant gunshots and the whoops and wails of emergency vehicles told a frightening tale of chaos on a massive scale. In the vans T-window, they could see entire blocks of single homes, duplexes and apartment houses burning fiercely.
It looked little to the pair like the Detroit riots of 1945 or 1967, both of which happened in the summer and both of which they had seen in telewindow flashbacks. The cold season gave it an entirely different look by robbing it of one visible feature inextricably tied to each of the citys other big riotsthe color of the rioters.
Few faces and hands were exposed to observation. No one could have known the skin color of all the people running out of the openings left by smashed commercial display windows. The looters grabbing guns, liquor, computers, telewindows, telewindow cameras and Virtual Reality Visors could have been any color. The fire bombers could have been any color. With most of the vandals, looters and arsonists protected from cold and identification by gloves, ski-masks and hooded coats, who could tell?
Vera took hold of Glens left arm, her fight or flight response on standby alert. "First a mans dead body on the freeway, now this. You dont think this was meant for us, too, do you?"
Glen managed a weak smile. "No," he said, reaching for the message centers ambient sound switch, "I dont think Jack figured on this at all. Who ever heard of a riot in the dead of winter? Im beginning to wonder if that body back their was for us after all."
Vera paid scant attention to the changed image in the T-window and the excited voice of the panting young reporter trying to give his report under fire. "Yeah," she said, "something must have happened to piss off a lot of people real bad."
Then she noticed the call letters in the corner of the window: KROW, Detroit. Thats what she saw, but thats not what was there. KROW were call letters for a telewindow station in a Western state. And what channel was that? T-win 505? Now she saw what had been there all along. T-win 505, Denver.
She sat up straight in her seat.
Her sudden move caught Glens eye. He traced her open-mouthed stare to the message center and did a double take, thinking, This cant be happening in two cities at the same time. No sooner did the thought pass into memory than a vicious gang fight on a garbage-strewn lot in Miami played itself out against the backdrop of burning buildings. An Army helicopter swooped down from the blue.
The helicopter centered itself roughly thee stories above the 50 or 60 knife, club, and chain-wielding barbarians and dropped something that looked like an ordinary flour sack. A few harried faces lifted to see the object falling into their midst.
Someone shouted, "Bomb!"
The resultant flight of the youths from ground zero was halted almost instantaneously in an amber cloud blossom which enshrouded them all. They fell to the ground with shouts and curses and pleas to Jesus as though every one of them had been shot in the spine. They continued their yelling and cursing and praying out loud, completely helpless and unable to comprehend what had happened to them. Some wept for their mothers.
Neither Glen nor Vera had ever seen anything like it. They watched in horror and fascination, wondering as the field of quadriplegic boys on the ground in Miami must have wondered, what would happen next. They knew that their overriding concern should have been with the big picture, but they couldnt bring themselves to look anywhere else until they understood what they were seeing.
A medical helicopter and two armored troop carriers enter the picture. As the troop carriers ramp came down and the armed troops ran out to encircle the paralyzed youths, the medical helicopter landed nearby. A six member medical team hopped from the open door of the chopper and trotted toward the circle. A white, wild-haired reporter in her early-twenties wearing an unfashionably see-through blouse for her small breast size, chased after them. A white, baby-faced corporal on the perimeter carrying a fearsome-looking weapon similar to a rifle at port arms like the rest of the armed troops, stopped her.
The striking thing about the reporter and the soldier who stopped her, apart from the fact that neither of them appeared to be affected by the gas, was their color. Neither Vera nor Glen had thought much about it before, but white people in this scene were in the distinct minority. All of the civilian boys were either black or Hispanic. Of the other 50 or so solders, all but nine were black. The officers were 100% black.
These are federal troops, thought Glen. They have to be. The state militias, are all white.
The state militias in a bare majority of states were all white. However, Glens overgeneralization came close enough to describing the state of the nations general mind set not to quibble. Veras thoughts were tuned into his. With a mutual glance, they both knew it. In that moment, the need for them to understand what was going on and why, elsewhere in the country, was answered. The powder keg which had been the permanent place of Americans like Vera and the boys on the ground since the rise of the American Party, had finally exploded.
Black federal troops had become what black basketball players had once been. They were acknowledged masters of their trade, admired for their skills, sought out for their commercial endorsements, and possessed of little ability to affect anything of consequence. If something really big came up, the Ready Reserves would handle it.
With the role of the federal government now reduced to what it would have been if the Confederacy had won the War Between the States, federal troops typically had little of consequence to do. Only in the most extreme circumstances of domestic unrest or threatened business interests abroad, were they called upon to perform. But apart from spectacular raids, audacious rescues and staged exhibitions of consummate military prowess to serve one political purpose or another, the public rarely got a chance to see the Regular Army in real-time action.
The first question the reporter asked the corporal was the one foremost in Glen and Veras mind; "Are these boys going to be all right?"
The brown-eyed soldier grinned along with his buddies nearby. "Yes maam," he said, "cept for them that was cut up or busted up too bad before we got here."
Despite their outward focus on things other than the tenuous nature of their own present circumstances, Glen and Veras primary concern resided with their own inner demons. The instant the reporters question was answered, that fact hit both of them hard. The entire country was in danger. People were choosing up sides on the basis of superficial physical characteristics and killing people on the wrong side. Who could say when the shooting would start in their vicinity and what the right side would be for them if it did?
The reporters camera operator shifted his shooting angle to pick up not only the reporter and the soldier who had stopped her but the medical team tending to the wounded.
"What did you immobilize them with?"
"A standard yellow load, D-186 NL/CCA. Thats a yellow, non-lethal crown control agent. You can see that the yellow gas has already dispersed. Its got a take-down life of 7 seconds. That means it can do its stuff for 7 seconds. After that, it aint nothin. Thats why we can move right in without protective gear. We aint gotta take no kinda pills or nothin."
"But how long does the paralysis last."
The black soldier next to the one being interviewed blurted out, " As long is we want it to." Like the white solder, he had a happy grin on his face.
The reporter and the camera switched to him. "You are?" asked the reporter.
"Sergeant Daniel T. Golightly, squad leader, 1st squad, A Company, 4th Battalion, 24th Infantry, Special Troops."
"Tell her where you from, Sarge," shouted someone outside of the window frame.
All of the soldiers laughed, including Sgt. Golightly. "Nigga Toe Alabama he said," to the reporters embarrassment. "Das da flat out troof."
In the background, some of the men and women in uniform could be seen carrying wounded gang members toward the helicopter on stretchers. The reporter couldnt take her eyes off of them for more than a few seconds.
"Are you sure the gas didnt do permanent harm to those boys?" she inquired dubiously.
"Nah?" said the out-of-window voice of the corporal, clearly meaning the opposite, "There aint nothin safer for them or us than NL/CCA."
"Yeah," said Sgt. Golightly, "Day got off lucky. We wanted ta drop a brown one on day sorry asses an keep on rollin, but da medics vetoed da plan cause a da open wounds.
"What is a brown one?" asked the earnest reporter.
"What does it sound like?" said the private.
All the soldiers laughed uproariously.
Vera turned to Glen who was also laughing. "What the hell is so funny?" she demanded.
While the sergeant explained the term to the reporter in the technical language of an Army field manual, Vince said, "Its a crowd control agent that makes people loose control of their bowls."
"Thats revolting," said Vera as the reporter stopped the trooper and moved on to another topic.
"Yeah," said Glen, "No way you stick around in a situation like that and come off looking good."
"And everybody wants to look good."
"Yeah, in somebodys eyes. Even a bag lady wears the prettiest clothes she can dig out of the garb"
"What is it, Glen?"
"My phone," he said, touching a button on his wristband that turned on the ambient sound and put the image of the caller in the vans message center. In this case, there were two callers; Andrea Urlan and Leah Flores.
Contact the author: Jasper Garrison