Authors: Kurt Zimmerman
By Kurt Zimmerman
Copyright 2012 by Kurt Zimmerman
All rights reserved
Any character similarities in this work of fiction to any other person, living or dead are purely coincidental and unintentional.
“David! Slow down! Please! What are you thinking?”
Fully aware that he was sliding toward a snow-filled ditch and an expensive towing bill, David wrestled the four wheel drive Ford Escape back onto the icy roadway.
This is not helping,
He thought to himself. “I need it to be quiet, Feleesh, Okay? I’m trying to concentrate here. I’ve been driving in this kind of weather for over thirty years. So relax. We’re almost there.”
David Fairchild tried to sound confident as he doggedly maneuvered the vehicle through the relentless storm. His fists tightened on the wheel as he leaned forward, his eyes straining to see the road ahead through the blinding snow. As difficult as it was for him to admit, his wife Felisha might be right. Maybe they should pull over and wait for the blizzard to blow over.
Twenty-year-old Sarah sat quietly in the back seat, petrified with fear. Both of her hands were gripping the armrest, her pale blue eyes staring out into the storm. The container of freshly-baked cookies in her lap was of little comfort. Sarah had been looking forward to this road trip to surprise her fiancé, Randy, who was a communications major at the University of Michigan Ann Arbor. Given the nasty weather and her future in-laws quarreling in the front seat, the morning’s good idea had turned into a bad one.
A howling wind was pushing the vehicle back and forth across the roadway. There were times when David was uncertain whether they were even still on the pavement! Fortunately, there was no other traffic.
Maybe they’re the smart ones,
What are we doing out in this kind of weather anyways?
He reluctantly considered stopping until the winter nightmare was over.
His thoughts were interrupted by a blinding light directly to his left. A ground-shaking tremor, accompanied by an ear-splitting trumpeting blast enveloped the weary travelers. Before David could turn his head to look, the entire world around them exploded. The Escape’s steering wheel was ripped from David’s grasp. All the air was sucked from the vehicle and replaced with broken bits of shooting plastic and a kaleidoscope of shimmering pieces of glass, propelled in all directions.
There was a split second of shock, and then a calm, quiet darkness. There were no warnings, no words, and no screams. None of the dying occupants in the vehicle that cold, February evening were aware that the westbound Amtrak 355 Wolverine service to Chicago had just unmercifully sliced their vehicle in half.
“Hello, my name is Alli, and I am your personal guide to the United States Government. To which Agency may I direct your call?”
Randy thought. “I need Pension Services, please.”
I need to find out what lousy, pencil-necked geek pushed the wrong button and kept me from getting my first disability check.
This Alli girl does have a cute voice, though. Probably short for Allison.
Randy Fairchild was not a bitter man; he simply knew the routine and begrudgingly followed it.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Fairchild, but Pension Services seems to be busy right now. I’m still ringing, and I will connect you as soon as someone answers. So, how is your day going?”
A friendly government worker? Oh, yeah, I remember reading something about that.
Alli was part of the joint business/government effort to re-connect the American people with their estranged leaders. Alli, and what must have been hundreds, maybe thousands of her co-workers, were trained and ready to serve as liaisons between the United States Federal Government and the reality the rest of us lived in. Twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year, any American could now reach a human voice, carry on a human conversation, and be connected to the government agency they needed. And, oh yeah, they all se habla espanol.
“My day is going fine, Alli. How about yours?”
“My days seem endless,” Alli said with a sigh, “but I enjoy helping people like you, Mr. Fairchild.”
People like me. Yeah, right,
Randy thought. However, it did sound like someone in Washington had finally discovered how to train an employee to be friendly. It was a welcome change from the normal sarcastic monotone he was used to dealing with during his short CIA career.
But something in Alli’s voice sounded strangely appealing to him. Probably a familiar dialect, Randy thought, possibly from his home state of Michigan or somewhere else in the Midwest.
“I’m sorry, Mr. Fairchild. Pension Services is not answering. Can I call you back on this number when we connect?”
“Only if you call me Randy. Mr. Fairchild was my dad.”
“Okay, Mr. Fair- Oh, I mean Randy,” Alli said with a giggle.
The phone refused to ring the rest of the day, but it wasn’t like Randy was doing anything important. After ten years of drowning under a deluge of endless paperwork and lonely safe house drudgery, he was glad to be out of the Central Intelligence Agency, retired, and drawing some kind of a pension, even if it was a disability pension. $2400 a month wasn’t much, but he didn’t need much. Living alone, in an older, but well maintained second-floor Washington apartment was cheap enough. Randy had hired into the CIA right out of the University of Michigan.
The CIA had not been his first life choice. His original plan was to graduate, settle down and do the whole marriage, 2.4 kids and mini-van in the suburbs thing, but that life hadn’t worked out.
Raised as the only child of his adoptive parents, Randy had grown up in a small, forgotten farm town in Southeastern Michigan. That life ended when his adoptive parents and fiancé were all killed in a train/auto accident, before he graduated from the university.
Finishing school and feeling sorry for himself became Randy’s full-time occupation after the loss. His social life consisted of drinking and trying to make his roommate, Carl Frazier, as depressed as he was. But at the urging of his roommate and only close friend, Randy decided to sober up, pull himself out of his depression, and together with Carl, apply to the CIA.
Agency life hadn’t always agreed with Randy. Sure, as a targeteer, he traveled around the world, had the opportunity to see interesting places and meet interesting people, but moving from one safe house to another got old, quick. The work was routine; coordinate communications, act as a resource officer, run routine errands and file reports on other agent’s activities. It had all the glamour of a mundane nine to five office cubicle job, except it went around the clock on most days.
Well, he was out of that now, thanks to a wayward 9mm slug he still carried in his chest. His 6’-3” muscular body was barely 36 years old. He considered himself better than average looking, with a great smile and a full head of sandy-colored hair; still young enough to do something with his life. There was no way he was going back into another government job, even if it meant having only one small pension. Many of his fellow agents would finish their twenty and start their second careers, collecting two pensions after putting in another twenty. Double-dippers, they were called.
No thanks, not for him.
His cell phone rang early the following morning.
“Hello, Randy?” a soft, friendly and familiar voice asked. “This is Alli from Connect America; I have Pension Services on the line for you.”
“Oh, Hi, Alli. I’m glad you called back. Can I talk to you for a minute?”
“I have them standing by, Mr. Fairchild. Pension Services will take care of you now.”
. Did it get cold on this line, or what?
quick return to business caught him off guard. “Oh, Okay, sure. Thank you, Alli. Uhh, I hope it turns out to be a short day for you.”
The line was silent for a moment.
“I’m sorry if I was rude just now, Randy. I’m not sure what’s wrong with me. May I call you later this afternoon?”
“Uhh, sure, great, yeah, that would be great,” Randy managed to croak out, pleasantly surprised at her quick change of heart.
The pension check problem took a full hour to resolve, but after explaining it to four different people, in four different offices, Randy had assurances that his check was being processed.
Some things about bureaucracies will never change,
he thought. Democrats still screamed about a ‘kinder, gentler’ government, and would tax you to death in order to provide it. The Republicans still dreamed about lowering taxes, even if it meant thousands of people were thrown off the programs and into the street.
The impasse divided the country and created friction and distrust. With more and more citizens becoming openly hostile toward the government, it was not an unexpected surprise for both parties to support the ‘Connect America’ program, even if it added another layer of fat to an already bloated Federal bureaucracy.
It was precisely 1PM that same afternoon when his phone rang a second time.
“Hello, Randy, this is Alli.”
“Hi, Alli. How are things going for you today?”
“I’m not sure,” she began. “I guess things are the same as they have always been. At least as much as I can remember.”
That sounded ominous. “What do you mean? Aren’t you feeling well? Do you need anything?”
“No, I’m fine. I’m always fine. In fact, I can’t remember the last time I was sick. I think it was in college. That was a long time ago. It seems like all I do is work. I never seem to be anywhere else but at work. Doesn’t that seem strange?”
He knew exactly what she was feeling. “Listen, kiddo, I know what that’s like. I retired from one of those kind of jobs. How long have you been working for Connect America?”
“Quite a few years, I think- longer than I can remember. Ever since they started the program. It seems like forever. There was some intense training and then we started working.”
“Well, if it’s been since the beginning of the program, it’s probably been eight or nine years,” he offered.
“I guess,” Alli responded. “I’m not sure what is going on around here most of the time. I answer the phones and direct the calls. I always feel alone. There really isn’t anyone here to talk to.”
“You can call me anytime,” he offered. “My phone is always on. It’s always great to hear a friendly voice.”
Randy never found out what her response was to his offer; he heard a series of beeps, two clicks, then the phone went silent.
For the next three days, Randy had a camping trip planned to Assateague Island National Seashore in Maryland. It was his favorite place to be. The Sinepuxent Ranger Station on the Maryland end of the island issued an annual ORV permit, and he had already driven his black, four-wheel drive Suburban the 37 miles of beach from Maryland to Virginia twice, since he left the Agency. The Oceanside camping area was his favorite spot to pitch a tent and completely relax, right near the beach. The entire area was popular with nature lovers and bird watchers, but Randy mostly craved the solitude and quiet. The smells and sounds of the ocean had a magical, soothing effect on him.
Once, he took a boat tour of the little islands. The natural beauty, the bright yellows and blues of the wild flowers, the variety of colorful birds and the bands of wild horses that roamed the beaches made this his favorite place to unwind and recharge.
When not camping, reading or relaxing, Randy spent his spare time boxing at the Downtown Boxing Club on M Street. Sparring with other amateur boxers helped him keep in shape and kept his reflexes sharp as well. The remainder of his exercise regimen consisted of daily runs through the many parks in Washington and working out in his apartment. He had seen what happens to agents like him who retire at an early age and fail to follow a rigorous exercise program. Randy was one who insisted on staying fit.
It was precisely 8AM during one of these regular morning runs when Randy was interrupted by his ringing phone.
“Hello, is this Randy?”
“Yes, and this sounds like Alli. How are you? Are you okay?” His former field training detected some stress in her voice.
“I don’t know,” she answered in a worried tone. “It took me several tries to contact you today, and I have been having trouble getting an open phone line out from here. In fact you were my last call out when we spoke last week.”
“Where are you? Maybe I should come and get you so we can talk; we could get a cup of coffee somewhere.”
The phone was silent for a moment. “I’m at work. At the Call Center.”
The Call Center was one of Washington’s newest multi- million dollar construction projects. It was a ten story building, erected on one entire city block, taking up the space that was previously occupied by Farragut Square.
“How would it be if I stopped by today, when you get out of work, and we can have dinner or something?”
After what felt like an hour of silent rejection, but was actually less than 10 seconds, Alli spoke.
“I don’t know if that will work.”
“Okay then, tell me what will work,” he offered.
“I don’t know. I’ll have to call you later, Randy.”