"Nearly all men can stand adversity, but if you want to test a man's character, give him power." -- Abraham Lincoln
“Daniel, this is Heston, owner of all this,” Celeste spread her arms wide indicating the entire spectrum of the environment around us.
“Yup, 2600 acres of heaven!” speaking with a gravel in his voice, shaking my hand firmly.
“So you’re the man that leases the land….” I was unable to finish before Celeste interrupted with an adamant “Yes.”
“Please come inside.” Mr. Heston led the way into his little store and put up his “closed” sign before taking us to a closet door that had yet another trap door leading down underground into a basement. “We can talk down here.”
“Did you hear what happened?” Celeste once again poised in the professional manner to which I’d grown accustomed. Heston went to a cupboard and took out a bottle of Jim Beam and three shot glasses.
“Yea,” a deep sigh, “just heard from them soldiers who was just here. They was braggin’ about the kills they had.” Stopping to look at Celeste, “I’m sorry, I had no idea they’d be returnin’ early.”
“Do you know who or how many we lost?”
“About sixty of you, from what I’d heard.” Holding up his shot glass in an impromptu toast, “To our first casualties of war.”
“Hear hear,” followed by the clink of glasses making contact and another shot poured.
“Did you have enough time to get the message out?” He looked genuinely concerned as he downed another shot full of Whiskey.
“For the most part. All I was able to take with me is this,” throwing the semi-dry folder on the table. Heston opened the folder, exposing the smeared ink on many of the pages. “There’s not much here,” noticing much of the information was lost within the chaos of ink smudges. The only thing left was the map showing in bright red smudged circles the three Network Stations.
“Has anyone else reported back to you?” Celeste seemed a bit saddened that she already knew the answer, validated with a simple sorrowful look from Heston.
“You and your gentleman friend here may be the only contact I have with your group now.”
“I know I wasn’t supposed to come back here, I’m sorry for this.” Heston grabbed her hand, holding it tightly.
“Child, the only reason you’re here is because you had no other options. You don’t need to apologize, I’m on your side…remember?”
“Thank you.” Smiling for the first time in a while, “We need money, cash if you have any and a car. Are there any safe houses we can go to?” I sat at the table and contributed nothing to the conversation they were having. Heston’s demeanor changed as he poured us all another shot.
“Celeste, there’s somethin’ you should know.” As he emptied his next shot in a single swallow with eyes now showing the glossy shine alcohol gives. He got up, walked over to a television set he had in the corner and turned it on. Immediately, the screen filled with images of riots, very much like the infamous Rodney King riots, only this was being reported from more than one city. The marquee at the bottom listed city after city affected by these types of conflicts.
“Oh my god, what’s happened?” Celeste was wide eyed and disturbed as I was. “Does this mean it’s started???” now pacing the room, anxious from the news she was hearing.
“It started with the simultaneous bombings of 16 Jewish Temples and one Jewish school. The news immediately blamed terrorist cells, including evidence that certain White Extremist groups had helped fund these attacks, accompanied by evidence of other massive racial attacks in the works. This has been on the t.v. for the last 36 hours.”
It was about this time I poured my own shot, anxious to get to that numb feeling before my own emotions betrayed me. Celeste just stopped and stared blankly at the violence shown on the T.V. screen. There were constant break-ins of news, with more and more cities effected by these bombings and enraged citizens. The screen filled with images of local police and their efforts to contain the violence, finding themselves in more danger as a result. One image was cut off quickly, but not before showing the bloody beating of a black man trying to break up a fight. The poor man was overwhelmed like ants to sugar the moment he came out of his home to help. Celeste and I looked at each other, knowing that this image alone will force yet another ethnic group into this battle. Heston started flipping the channels, showing the same reports on every channel his rabbit-eared T.V. could receive. Another station was having an interview with a local politician who was discussing the need for chip implants and how this would help prevent future attacks like this. Stressing the need to identify and track potential terrorists, whether natural born citizens or outside threats. Global chipping was mentioned a few times, emphasizing the need to close the gap between enemy countries, allowing for the “peace movement,” which I later discovered was another term for Global Unity.
“That’s why them soldiers arrived earlier than scheduled. I can only assume the final stages of preparations are now takin place within them camps. I can give you the cash you need, give you a car even, but there ain’t no safe houses for you to go to, not around heres anyway.” The disappointment displayed in Celeste’s eyes was shared by everyone in the room.
“Why?” I couldn’t think of anything else to ask. “Why are the safe houses compromised?”
Celeste poured herself another shot, “Right now, as we speak, these ‘sleepers’ are being activated. Most of us don’t know who these sleepers are. Some may be affiliated with our group; members who weren’t at the meeting, people we weren’t able to scan whom we may have trusted.” Shaking her head, “This is bad, very very bad. I had really hoped for more time.”
“From what I learned through my sources, ‘they’ know we know. It was leaked to some high ranking office holders that the VP divulged more than they thought, with documentation.” He emphasized his point by tapping his forefinger on the folder which lay exposed on his table.
Celeste exposed another side of herself to us, fear. The look of concern in her eyes said it all. She was very careful to hide any evidence of her being in that room the night our Vice President was killed, and now she doubted even her training. She wondered if there was a hair or fingerprint left anywhere that would give her away. “Celeste,” Heston grabbed her hand and put another shot there, “drink this,” which she did without argument, “They had your picture up on the FBI and all local police websites. They identified you as being the leak.” Celeste collapsed onto the chair, shaking her head.
“How? I was so careful.” Then another thought struck her. “If that’s the case then we are all in jeopardy here!” Looking at me now, “that soldier!”
“Well, we need to get you both outta here.” Heston started as he walked up the stairs, “Wait here, I’ll be right back.” And with that said, he vanished behind the trap door.
We heard the creaking of wood when he walked above us, listening, having nothing to say to each other. What could be said? We both stared at the images on the T.V., now announcing a massive attack in L.A. by the Hispanics, mostly gang members who were focusing on the black gangs with whom they shared their city streets. Most of the damage being done was directed at buildings. A few deaths were being reported, but the extensive coverage focused on the public destruction of buildings.
“I never would have thought we’d be that predictable. “They” were right. All these people needed was an excuse, a reason to give in to their hate.” Celeste had a tone in her voice that for a moment made me feel as if she’d already given up. “We didn’t even have time to warn anyone, all this information, all the sacrificing and dying that took place just to get this information, and for what?”
“It’s not over, Celeste. It’s just the beginning, right? We have to fall back on another plan, that’s all.”
“Yeah? And what plan might that be, D?” It was at this time we heard more creaking and footfalls above us. It sounded like more than one person was upstairs. “Shhhhh. Someone else is here.” We both stupidly stared up at the wood planks that supported the store above us. We couldn’t understand the mumblings we heard, but knew there was a conversation taking place.
“Oh god, not Heston!” Celeste stared at the gun we laid on the table, contemplating whether or not to grab it and go upstairs.
“Celeste, no. You need to wait. Whatever is going on up there, it’s for our protection. Don’t blow it by playing hero!” feeling my confidence and masculinity coming back. For once I felt like the protector, the one in charge. Celeste simply relaxed her stance against me and we both crept to a dark corner. In case this place was discovered, we wouldn’t immediately be seen.
It was silent for some time before we heard more creaking upstairs, and then the trap door opened. We stayed crouched in the corner until the man descending the stairs spoke. “It’s ok, y’all.” followed by a huge audible sigh of relief from both Celeste and myself.
“Who was that,” Celeste asked, “another customer?”
“Nah, it was a soldier. Says he lost his gun in them woods, wanted to know if I’d seen some hot looking red head.” Winking at Celeste. “Here, this is all I have but it should be enough to help you out.” handing Celeste a wad of cash, mostly hundreds wrapped in a thick rubber band. He then handed her a key. “There’s a blue pick-up parked about a quarter mile behind them trees out back. She’s a rusted piece of shit, but she runs.”
“Thank you so very much, Heston.” Giving him another embrace, “What would I do without you?”
“Let’s find out!” a strange voice resounded from the top of the stairs, forcing the three of us to turn at once, just before the deafening explosion of gunfire. As quickly as this stranger fired at us, Celeste was already on the ground and rolling toward the table with the gun on it. I was frozen, paralyzed instantly as I watched Heston fall flat on his back with his eyes wide open, never once blinking when he hit the floor, revealing the messy splattering of blood and tissue now defining his basement wall. Two more shots were fired before I finally reacted, laying flat on the floor and crawling toward the T.V. for cover. When I found my protection, I turned toward Celeste who was now standing up, walking over toward the stranger now draped across the bottom three steps. She kicked the man’s gun away before kneeling beside him. It was the soldier she had just serviced not an hour ago. He stared at her with wide eyes, shaking his head. He tried to speak but every time he did, he coughed up blood. As his struggles to breathe became painfully apparent, Celeste said nothing. She just held his fright-filled stare with her own, insuring her image was the last he’d see, until the color in his eyes turned dull. One last deep exhale followed by a release of his bladder told us both this man was dead. Celeste never bothered to show respect, never closed his eyes nor whispered a prayer. She spat on him before turning to Heston, who also laid motionless in his own fluids. For him, she showed remorse. She knelt beside him, holding his hand, offering an apology before she closed his eyes and laid his hands on his chest. Still she didn’t shed tears, she didn’t break down crying. She stood erect and reborn, a new mask of determination and rage covered her face now, and for a moment I became very apprehensive.
Deliberately she walked the room, picking up the folder, grabbing the dead soldier’s gun, picking his pockets and ammo belt for more clips and cash before going through the remainder of the room taking inventory of the items we’d need to take with us. She found a 12 gauge shotgun in one of the storage cupboards with a box of shells, which she grabbed and threw at me to carry. The last thing she grabbed was the remaining bottle of whiskey still open and on the table.
She stopped just before we were to leave to see what was now showing on the T.V. Being reported was a news bulletin about a caravan of KKK members armed with machine guns now traveling through Detroit, taking aim at any colored person seen.
“Plan B!” was all she said before we both ascended the stairs, closing the trap door behind us. We cautiously made our way through the store, grabbing any food items we could carry, then proceeded out back, paying close attention to the treeline and road, looking for any sign of unwanted company. We stayed very low and cautious until we were well beyond the treeline. Confidence regained, our strides became long and deliberate. Every step we took was fueled by rage, with our own hate creeping in on us, consuming our thoughts, forcing rationality aside.
“Celeste,” I said, again grabbing her arm, “Please.” She quickly spun around forcing her arm free from my grip.
“WHAT? What the hell do you want, Daniel?”
“I want you to take a deep breath, Celeste. If there’s one thing I know, it’s that you cannot accomplish anything if your actions are controlled by emotion. You need to stop and take a deep breath!”
Celeste just stared at me, breathing very shallowly, “Fuck you!” then turned and continued walking. I kept up with her, not saying anything more until we got to the truck. She calmed down some when she saw it, just as Heston had described, a baby blue rusted old truck. She walked up to it slowly, circling the vehicle, taking mental notes of its condition. She looked for any distinct marks that would flag this vehicle once we were in it. I just stood back and observed her in action. When she opened the door and noticed the floor boards were so rusted you could see the grass below, she finally broke down laughing.
“What?” I asked, now approaching the vehicle.
“I hope you have good shoes on. I get the feeling we’ll be riding Flintstone style!” showing me the rusted floors.
We threw our guns and other supplies onto the seat, then she hopped in to see if it’d start. It didn’t. I didn’t know much about engines but I knew the basics. An old vehicle like that had a much easier engine to work on. Everything was right in view, no fuel injector, no chips, no computer board or GPS with which to concern ourselves. Just the basic Carburetor engine that had its distributor caps unplugged.
“Try it now,” I suggested. After a few more attempts we were finally rewarded with a rough sounding purr, but not before it coughed and sputtered, moaning its resistance to our efforts. “Let it run a while, warm up a bit. Sounds like it’s been a while since it was last driven.”
Celeste got back out and leaned against the side of the truck. “I’m sorry. I shouldn’t have cursed at you. Funny thing is, your advice is usually the first thing I teach when recruits come my way.”
I approached Celeste now with confidence, the same false confidence I had when going to a bar on the prowl for my next conquest. I could always count on my good looks to get a phone number, if not more. I leaned my entire body into hers, pressing her against the side of the truck. She looked up into my eyes, almost amused, before I kissed her. Not an aggressive kiss like the one she gave me earlier, but a soft, teasingly tender kiss, my lips barely touching hers, slowly exploring her mouth using the tip of my tongue to outline the shape of her lips, moving closer into her until we were both at the mercy of our embrace. Tasting the lingering flavor of Whiskey on her breath had me more aroused than I had ever been, feeling her body tense up on mine, her hands now exploring the well-defined muscles on my body, hidden by clothes no longer smelling fresh.
She took my shirt off, rubbing her hands on my chest and her fingernails gently down my back, outlining with her fingertips my shoulders, arms and chest. I kissed her neck passionately now, running my own fingers through her tangled hair, trying very carefully not to hurt her. Her hands found the buckle of my belt and with the smoothness of experience had it loosened and dangling off one side.
I unbuttoned her blouse, kissing the exposed skin each loosened button offered me until I had her breasts exposed, perfectly round and full, nipples erect and inviting my mouth to suck on them. She moaned ever so quietly, her fingers caressing the back of my head as I in turn cupped her beautiful breasts in my hands, kissing the cleavage in between, working my way down to her navel. She had the most beautiful figure, thin with rounded hips and very tone, not a wrinkle or patch of flabby skin anywhere on her. A spot just below her navel again satisfied me with a quiver, defining just for a moment the muscles in her stomach. I lifted her skirt up, still kissing her stomach, and pulled down her panties.
Both of us were vulnerable and naked, completely unaware of anything around us, focusing only on the immediate pleasure we’d soon be experiencing. Although this wasn’t the most intense experience I’d had with Celeste, it was the most connected I’d ever felt with any woman. When I entered her body this time, feeling her tighten around me, I felt as if I’d melt completely into her, almost losing myself within the heat her body emitted. And for a moment, the first time in my life, I felt like she and I were one. Even when our climax subsided and was replaced with that euphoric need to sleep, I couldn’t release her, I couldn’t let her slip away from me. I kept her immobile with my body, my fingers clasped with hers, wishing this moment, this one speck of time, could last longer. I wished it could replace all the hate which surrounded us, and hold us in its utopia long enough to let the world collapse around us.
Celeste broke the spell of our moment. Regaining her composure, refreshed with new ideas and a possible plan B. “There’s one place we can go, a safe house I’d set up with only a few select individuals.”
“Do I know any of them?”
“Actually you do. They’ve been with me since the onset of your involvement in all this.”
“Oh, you’re talking about that Cockster dude and Mr. Bright. Right?” wondering now, like Celeste was, if they’d made it out.
“And a few others you haven’t met yet.” Celeste got in the truck and smiled at me when I stood there next to her, thinking I’d be driving. She simply shook her head, then motioned for me to get in on the passenger side. “You KNOW I’m a better driver.” Spoken with the widest smile I’d ever seen on a woman, letting me know that she had felt the same connection I did. She was a satisfied woman.