Chapter 3

You can find Chapter 1 here and Chapter 2 here of this novel in progress.  Enjoy!

WEST

 

            On a normal afternoon, she would listen to a podcast or audio book. The path of the jog looped miles out of town, across a section of woods ending at a beach with rocks shaped by pounding waves. She would stand on these rocks, often taking her shoes off to cool down, and think about the future.

The past was too painful.

She’d close her eyes and hear gunfire.  They had tried to fight, the university as a whole, standing on the grounds of academic and intellectual freedom.  She was one of the new breed at the time, fresh doctorate in hand, leading students through the finer points of Romantic poetry, not much older than they were. For a month they met as faculty in a lecture hall at midnight.

A flurry of activity followed, publications, protests, the rallying cries of youth.  Her department chair, a veteran professor, warned what was coming.  He said it would only go so far until they came to quiet the noise.

One Thursday morning in March, a caravan of vehicles entered campus. Troops arrived and locked everything down.  Faculty and students were removed and any resistance met with deadly force.

She opened her eyes as a seagull cried overhead. The breeze from the forest carried a smell she would always associate with the Pacific coast, though it was not called that any longer.  They were part of the West, the union between two outside forces that somehow had become real.

Her phone vibrated in the pocket of her green sweatshirt, the old University of Oregon O blazing on the chest in fluorescent yellow. She tapped the answer button on her ear piece.

“Where are you?”

His voice carried the smoke of sleep.

“The same place I go every morning.”

“I told you it’s not safe.” He yawned.

She imagined him stretching, the body of the athlete she had met as an undergraduate remained tight under his t shirt. His temples had grayed slightly but he still existed as the coiled ball of energy from his youth.

“You don’t need to worry about me.” She cringed as a stone cut her foot, bent down and picked up the offender, throwing it into the surf that shown the purple of morning.

“I live to worry about you.”

“I’ll be home soon.” She walked to where her shoes waited on the sand, sitting next to them. She checked the display on her cell phone.  They were nearing two minutes, the unofficial limit where tracking would kick in from the network. “Keep breakfast warm for me.”

“Will do.  Love you.”

“Love you too.” She laced her shoes, wished the ocean goodbye, and started back down the trail.

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The white Suburban SUV appeared within a mile.

She was mentally preparing that afternoon’s lecture, hypnotized in the road rhythm, when the streak of color passed in her peripheral vision. She turned her head as it made a U turn and accelerated back.  There were two options and with nothing around but trees, one was clear. She pulled up and stepped to the curb.  It parked behind her.

“You know, running out here alone is dangerous.”

He wore his usual suit, pulling the jacket closed and buttoning it.

“I’m used to it.”  Her voice cracked, even though she tried to stop it.

“How do you get more beautiful every morning?” He stood in front of her and brushed a strand of brown hair off her forehead. She saw him as he was that morning in March, the soldier breaking into her classroom.  An hour later, under individual interrogations, they had made a connection.  In a week they were having coffee after his shift ended.

They had started sleeping together after a night of drunken confessions.  She had felt like a ship, unmoored and tossed in the storm of this new reality. He was a vortex of trust and danger, the enemy and the only one open as all others pulled away.

It felt good to play both sides. It became an addiction.

She supplied information and was allowed back at her old job.  Things improved. She was promoted to a supervisory position within the English department.  Curriculum came from the new government to be delivered without deviation.  Education was still important as long as the line was kept. She taught the importance of following the wisdom of the past.

The flame of rebellion remained, though deep inside.

It took a night at the Joe’s Coffee to change things.  The café, located in the old Student Union, was no more than a handful of tables and tea light candles. Faculty gathered at the end of every week and that night she had sat in the corner of the room flipping through an illegal copy of Heart of Darkness. The sound of a guitar came from a darkened stage.

Conversation stopped.

“Where are you?”

She shook her head and blinked, not able to tell if the question came from her ear piece or the man standing in front of her, two points in the universe on this empty forest road at dawn.

“Sorry.”

“We’ve received word of something coming in a week or so. Listening devices picked up conversations around a gathering, all centered on a freshman.  This young man, named John, will be transferred into your class tomorrow morning. You will find what we need to know.”

“Okay,” she looked at her shoes.  He loved when she played to his power.

“Don’t worry my dear.  Your freedom will come soon.  Your service to the cause is valuable.” He kissed her on the lips, a fleeting touch, and walked back to the vehicle.  It sped past as she stretched her calves, cued up a song on her phone, and started at a faster pace towards home.

 

 

 

 

Chapter 2

Here is Chapter 2 of a rough draft in progress.  You can find Chapter 1 by clicking here.  Enjoy!

NORTH

 

The white building stood out in contrast against the Manhattan skyline.  Not that it functioned as Manhattan anymore. The towers once built to prosperity and ambition had fallen, only to rise again as centers of study and contemplation.

The city had improved.  Crime vanished.  All the perversions once considered art were confiscated and burned on barges that circled the land in constant reminder.

It took some time, yes, but the populace came around.

This morning an aria echoed from deep inside the bedroom broadcast on speakers to reach the limits of the porch.  The porch was that in term only.  It consisted of Italian marble, a grand fountain, luxury furniture and a media center covering all areas of the territory.

Even with the spread of options, Father Paul Kramer sat with his journal on his knees and a pencil in hand.  The wind rising up the building shifted what was left of his hair. He was writing notes on the cross and the idea of self-sacrifice for a greater good.

The flow of logic gave much-needed comfort.

For what were they without logic?

They were the bastard children of Rome.

When word came that all funding and support would be cut, they had to get creative. It was not time to panic.  It was time to gather and set plans in motion.

He stopped writing and looked to the horizon.  Far below the workforce would be starting their morning commute. The war had ended.  Things looked different now. This was a second chance.

This was the new center of faith without corruption, Rome without the scourge of revisionist history.

“He requests your presence.”

The statement came from his left. Kramer checked his watch.  The bastard was always on time.

“I’m on the way.”

The attendant scurried back inside.

 

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The elevator to the Holy Residence rose in blinding speed.  They had adapted it from the tech firm that owned in building in the time before.  It was accessible only by retina scan and monitored by three levels of security.  Kramer watched the floors blink by until the numbers vanished.

No one really knew how high they were headed.

In a moment, the doors opened.

He always thought of the temple, of their Lord and Savior clearing out the tables of the money changers.  The scriptures had said he fashioned a whip and drove out all those seeking to business in the house of the God.

What would Jesus say about this?

A vault of gold and currency, guarded by soldiers. A communications center four times the size of his own. A media studio broadcasting the morning news. Conference rooms with men in suits talking seriously over cups of coffee.

Kramer walked past all of this ignoring their fleeting glances.

Finally, when it seemed he would stride off the edge of the floor and fall into nothingness, a set of doors stood in his path.  These guards, four altogether, moved to the side.  One keyed in a code that changed daily.   The doors retracted and he walked through as they closed behind him with the hiss of pressurized air.

The far wall was glass from east to west. The bed had been constructed here, overlooking the city but not close enough to the edge that a stray member of the media could take a picture. A body laid on the bed, deep under a mound of covers.

Two doctors passed a tablet back and forth looking at images. A nurse replaced an IV bag.

“How is he?” Kramer asked.  One of the doctors turned to him.

“Good morning Father.” The man went to bow and Kramer waved him off.

“Tell me.”

“Two weeks, maybe six.  The cancer is spreading.”

Laughter came from the bed.  Kramer walked to the edge and touched the skeletal hand that rested on the blankets.

“You still use that thing?”

He looked at the pocket of his coat and the edge of the journal sneaking out. Even with a tumor in his brain, his vision was still sharp.

“How are you doing Vinny?”

The nurse cringed.  When Kramer made eye contact with her, she smoothed out her scrubs and left the room.

“Fine brother. Just fine.”

Vincenzo had risen through the parishes in the midst of the war. He was young, a star of the faith.  He delivered fiery messages that grew the church.  He was the architect of this new world.

He was still the kid from the Bronx that would play pickup basketball after school.

“Soon this will be yours.”

“No, sir.  Not me. No one knows you’re sick.  We can milk this as long as we need. Set up a stable transition.”

“There’s nothing stable anymore.”

“When’s the last time you heard of any conflict?”

Vinny laughed again.  The laughter turned to a deep cough that rattled his lungs.

“You remember Sister Margaret?”

Margaret was a nun of the old order, ancient when they were kids.  She ran her classroom like a dictatorship and they’d gone home with many years of scarred knuckles.

“Of course.”

“She always said silence was deadly. Idle hands are the devil’s playground and all that.”

They stopped talking.  Machines beeped in the background.

“Get Father Paul a chair.”

One of the doctors looked over for a second and went back to his reports. The movement happened in a blink. The arm that had rested on the blanket now gripped the doctor’s hand.  The guy dropped his tablet as it skittered across the floor.

“Now.”

The doctor left the bedroom and returned with one of the chairs from outside.

“Leave us.”

They left together. Kramer settled in the seat.

“You didn’t have to do that Vinny, scaring the kid.”

“I still got it, don’t I? Now get that journal out.  We have some business to discuss.”