J.T. Prescott Excerpts Page

Arts and Crafts

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Excerpts

She heard muffled voices and then the word “snipers” and stopped in her tracks. Quietly, she moved closer to the disguised servant’s entrance to the meeting room. With her ear against the door she could hear them.

“We will be ready on time. Recruitment has gone well and training has begun,” said a bold voice. “I’ve got the senator all set, and he assures me that the leadership of the House is on board.”

“How many casualties are we talking about?” an unsteady voice asked.

“We’ll start early next year. The total could easily reach two thousand or more,” the bold voice answered.

There were gasps in the room.

Her heart was pounding as sweat began to bead on her forehead. Frozen in the dimly lit hidden entrance, she wanted to run away but her feet wouldn’t move. She leaned into the darkened corner, trying to disappear into the woodwork. “I need to know that this ends up the way we want,” another voice said.

“Sniper teams loose in American cities frighten me. How can you be certain we can stop them when it’s time?” another voice asked.

“I have already handled that. There is no risk there,” the bold voice answered.

“What happens if some of our supporters get cold feet?” another voice asked.

“The senator has the full support of the necessary cabinet members, congressmen, and others required to do this. He guarantees it,” the bold voice reassured them.

She forced herself to move, stumbled, and caught herself.

“What the hell was that?” a voice asked loudly.

There was commotion in the room. People were moving in her direction. She was trapped.
She stood tall, tried to collect herself, and opened the door . . .

It was late July and Ken was settling into a routine at The Village. It had taken a month, but he was getting comfortable.

He was sipping his morning coffee and reading the newspaper when his phone rang. It was George Larsen, an old friend and former colleague. He asked Ken to pick him up at a local convenience store.

Ken looked at his watch. It was about ten thirty.

What in the hell is George doing here? Ken wondered.

George Larsen worked as an administrator for the CIA, handling logistics for people like Ken. A middle-aged desk jockey, George was not in shape and never had been, but he excelled elsewhere. He was never in the field but was very good at the nonglamorous details that could make or break the people who were. Among his extraordinary talents, he had a photographic memory and could solve any puzzle quickly. Ken marveled at his ability to do the Sunday New York Times crossword puzzle in fifteen minutes or less—in ink. Ken had always gone out of his way to let George know how much he valued him. Over the years, they discovered that they both liked fly-fishing and football. Those interests had just added more bonds to their relationship. Ken truly liked George and had written to him before he moved to The Village to give him his new contact information.

As Ken pulled into a parking space in front of the convenience store, he saw George Larsen dressed in jeans with a hooded sweatshirt covering his head. George was talking to two young men who Ken guessed to be in their early twenties. They were dressed in tank tops and covered in some kind of cheap-looking tattoos that Ken thought were some form of gang markings. One was tall and muscular, and the other was short and round but solid looking.

As Ken got out of the car, he saw the tall one push George to the ground.

Ken’s assessment was quick––hooligans looking for trouble.

As Ken got closer, they all looked up. Ken could see that the young men’s eyes were bloodshot, and he smelled the stench of rancid alcohol. The short one was eating a cupcake and had a plastic shopping bag holding a large bag of chips and some other munchies—the deadbeat’s breakfast.

The tall one was focused on Ken as he walked closer.

“What do you want, old man?” he asked. He clenched his fists and scowled.

Ken stopped and briefly exchanged glances with George but said nothing. He pointed to George, who was still on the ground, and said calmly and softly, “That man’s my friend.”

The tall one laughed. “Yeah—me and BoJack friends too.”

BoJack laughed as well.

The tall one stopped laughing, and a menacing look came over his face. He advanced on Ken. “Want some o’what yo friend got, old—”

Before he could finish, Ken’s right hand shot out to the tall man’s neck. A second later, the tall, muscular man was unconscious on the ground.

BoJack threw down his bag of munchies, spilling them all over the ground. He pulled a large knife from under his superlong tank top.

Ken had instinctively moved into a balanced stance. He spoke in the same steady voice. “Nice knife. Marine KA-BAR. One of my favorites.”

“Fuck you, man!” BoJack shouted. He was having difficulty understanding the scene before him—his muscular friend unconscious on the ground and an old man standing tall before him, apparently unafraid.

“Do you know how to use it? Because I certainly do.”

“I’ll cut you up, mutha’fuka!” BoJack screamed.

Ken raised his voice a little and challenged, “You have a choice. You can put the knife away and help your friend—”

“Or what?” BoJack moved the knife back and forth.

Ken’s brow furrowed and the edges of his mouth turned down. “Or I’ll take it away from you and shove it up your ass until it comes out your dick.”

After a long moment, BoJack put the knife away and began to lift his friend, muttering, “Cap yo ass when I get to ma car—”

Ken’s right hand came down hard on BoJack’s left temple, rendering him unconscious on the ground next to his friend.

“Thanks for the warning, BoJack.”

Ken turned to help George to his feet.

George was shaking.

Ken looked around the parking lot. “Where’s your car?”

“I don’t have one.”

Ken looked at him in disbelief. “OK. Let’s get out of here before BoJack and his buddy wake up.”

They got into Ken’s car, and he began to pull out of the parking space. “Well, I see why you called me, and I’m always glad to see you, but what are you doing here?”

George, hyperventilating, said, “We need to talk somewhere private.” He nervously panned the parking lot and its entrance and exit.

“Of course. We’ll go back to my place.”

They knew each other well, and the silence they maintained during the ten-minute drive back to The Village was deafening.

Ken’s mind was crawling with questions. What the hell are you doing lying on the ground with two thugs standing over you at a convenience store next to The Village? Why are you dressed like this? Where’s your car?

He suddenly winced from a shooting pain in his right hand and shoulder from the confrontation. He opened and closed his fist a few times and fought back a groan.

They entered Ken’s building through a side entrance to avoid the main lobby and limit any contact with residents or staff. George kept his hood up and head bent forward to hide his face.

As Ken shut the door to his apartment, he showed George to the couch.

“Want some coffee?”

“Can I have something stronger?”

Ken walked to the Victorian sideboard in his dining room to retrieve a bottle of scotch—Glenfiddich—George’s drink of choice. He poured three fingers, neat, into an elegant yellow crystal cocktail glass rimmed in gold, part of a set he had purchased years ago in Prague.

After a few minutes and a few sips, George began to speak. “Ken, I didn’t know who to turn to. I’m sorry to barge in on you like this, but I felt that calling you was too dangerous. I took a train to Baltimore and an assortment of cabs and buses to get here.”

“George, what the hell is going on? Who were those two guys?”

George took a long sip of his drink.

“First, those two guys were loitering when I got there to use the phone. They’re probably some gangbangers that were looking for a little bit of trouble,” he said breathlessly. “Second, yesterday morning, I got a call from a dear friend of mine, Carla Rob . . .” Tears started down his cheeks.

Ken handed him some tissues from the coffee table.

George slowly continued. The alcohol was doing its job. “Carla Robbins was the food and beverage manager for the Mayflower Hotel in DC. She called me with panic in her voice; I mean she was scared shitless. I’d never heard her like that be . . .” More tears. Another sip. “She asked me to meet her at her condo in Old Town. Carla is . . . was great at her job because she saw to every little detail. Periodically, she’d personally check on small gatherings to see if there was anything they needed, no matter how small. She did that yesterday before she called me.” He hung his head.

After a long pause, Ken moved next to him on the couch and placed his hand on top of George’s, which was shaking. “What happened?”

“This group was in the Roosevelt Room— ”

“What’s that?” Ken interrupted.

“It’s a small meeting room at the hotel. It’s been reconfigured over the years, and the main entrance now is through double doors at the base of the room. At the other end is the former entrance that’s now concealed behind a wooden screen. It allows staff to enter and exit without being disruptive so they can put out fresh coffee and that kind of stuff. Well, Carla went to check on this group, and she decided to use the service entrance . . .”

“What happened?”

“As she went for the handle, she froze when she heard the conversation that was going on.”

“What was the conversation about?”

“She should have left, but she didn’t. I think she was like a deer in the headlights.” George blew his nose into a tissue and then continued after another sip of scotch. “She could hear some of it. They were talking about snipers going into cities and shutting them down.”

“What cities?”

“American cities.” George was shaking periodically.

“Did they know she could hear them?”

“I don’t know. When she got up her nerve to move, she stumbled a little and made some noise. She heard people moving toward the service entrance. She thought they’d catch her if she tried to run, so she entered the room like she had just arrived to do her hospitality thing.”

“What did she say?”

“She told them who she was and asked if there was anything that the hotel could do to make their experience more pleasant. They said everything was fine, and she left.”

“That’s it? Sounds OK so far.”

George shook his head. “She isn’t an actress, and she probably looked just like she felt—terrified. At least that’s what she said she was afraid of.”

George stared blankly into space.

Ken’s elbows were propped on his knees as he leaned forward. “What happened next?”

“We met at her condo and talked about what had happened. She said she wanted to go jogging along the river to clear her head. I said OK, but only if she agreed to meet me for dinner later that night.”

George drank some more.

“Did you meet her for dinner?”

“We agreed to meet at the Monaco. I waited for her at the bar, watching the news on their TV. That’s when I saw it. . . .” More tears.

After a moment, he went on. “The reporter said that she was killed by a mugger on the bike path near Mount Vernon. She always ran along the path between the Lincoln Memorial and Old Town—never toward Mount Vernon. She thought it was too dangerous.”

Ken said the obvious: “Why didn’t you call the police?”

“Carla thought she heard them talking about senators and congressmen. She thought people in our government were involved, and, if that was the case, I just plain didn’t know where to go, so I came to see you.”

They sat for a moment in silence. Then Ken spoke. “Try to remember exactly what she told you she heard.”

Ken refilled George’s glass.

“OK. As she approached the door, she heard one of the men speaking to the group. He said snipers have been recruited and are in training. They should be ready to start early next year, and will expand once the body count reaches some number or something like that.”

George took a few breaths. “It was hard for her to hear and understand what they were saying. However, she did hear one man talk about meeting a senator and that he had the support of the House and key cabinet people. Somebody estimated the death count to be over two thousand before it’s over.”

“George, did she say anything about where this was going to happen?”

“Not really.”

“What exactly did she say?”

George caught his breath and tried to calm himself. “She didn’t hear any city mentioned, just American cities. It could be anywhere.”

He paused. “Then she made some noise and . . .” He hung his head in silence.

Ken shook his head. “This just doesn’t make any sense.”

“Look, I know it sounds crazy, but whatever she heard got her killed, and somehow our government is connected to it.”

“I don’t know how much an old man in a retirement home can help you.”

Ken saw fear spread over George’s face, and then he heard an old voice from within that he hadn’t heard in years. He looked at his hands. They were old, spotted, and wrinkled like the rest of him. He rubbed his day-old beard and thought about the possibilities and how far he’d fallen since Ann died.

“George, if this sniper thing is being orchestrated by people affiliated with or in our government, then nobody is safe—nowhere, no way. In fact, until we get a handle on this, you should stay right here and sleep on my couch.”

George had another drink of courage. “I’ll be OK as long as I’m on the move, at least until we figure out what to do.”

“George, we have no idea how extensive this could be, or what it is for that matter, so you should be on the safe side. They killed her, and they’ll know she called you just by looking at her phone records. Take every precaution and stay here.”

George was silent as the reality of the situation gripped him. After some thinking, he said, “Look, I know I can handle this. Besides, my mere presence could put everyone around me in danger. Think about all the people around here. It really is time for me to move on.”

Ken shook his head as he was reminded of just how stubborn George could be.

“Well, don’t use your cell phone or credit cards. Buy a phone card or prepaid cell phone. You can’t let them know your location. You know they could have eyes everywhere.”

“I know. Remember what I do for a living?”

“What’s that they say about the shoemaker and shoes?”

They both laughed, trying to cover their fear.

“You call me tomorrow morning at ten. I’ll give this a lot of thought between now and then.”

“I will.” He looked deeply into Ken’s eyes. “Let me emphasize that I was careful coming here. Nobody can trace my route or whereabouts. I know how dangerous these people are. Also, I got rid of my cell phone. I stayed out of sight of the camera monitors that I’m aware of in the train and bus stations, and I paid for everything in cash. I’ll be careful. I’ve never been truly scared like this before.” He paused for a bit, and then continued in a soft, sincere voice, “Ken, I feel better just knowing you are thinking about this.”

George was one of the few who knew how capable and effective Ken had been, which was why, of all the people he could turn to, he had chosen him.

“Can I get a lift?”

Reluctantly, Ken consented. “All right, but remember everything that I said, and don’t forget to call me.” Ken drove him to a local hotel, where George caught a cab.

Back in his apartment, Ken reasoned that a conspiracy like this would be hard to keep under wraps, but if it was real, then the leaders would need a scorched-earth policy to deal with risk. That meant no one was safe from pursuit by death squads. He had seen operations of this nature in other countries many times, but never in his own. The thought of something like this being real—here—sent a chill through him. He forgot about his woes and began to dwell on the information he had just received from George Larsen.

The next morning, Ken had his coffee and toast while he read the newspaper and patiently waited for his phone to ring. Ten o’clock came and went. He was getting worried, so he decided to try to distract himself by watching TV. As usual, it was the same old crap on cable, but at least it would help him pass the time.

He put on a news channel and went to the kitchen to fix another cup of coffee. He ground some beans and loaded the French press, then added boiling water and waited for the coffee to be ready. The rich aroma distracted him as he walked back into his living area and saw a picture of George Larsen’s face on his forty-two-inch flat screen television. He was stunned for a moment and dropped his cup, spilling the coffee and shattering the mug. Shards of yellow, green, blue, black, and red clay sprayed the wooden floor and his small oriental rug.

The reporter said that George Larsen had been shot to death while trying to resolve a business issue with a drug gang in Anacostia and that an unidentified source said that Larsen was a heavy drug user.

Ken knew that George had never had any drug stronger than aspirin or scotch.



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