a novel by K. Alan Leitch
When Global Conspiracy strikes, America can count on the DMV…
Table of Contents
When I was being held prisoner in my childhood Sunday School, the latest in a stream of youth leaders, Margy Chapman, tried to teach us the parable of Daniel and the Lion’s Den. Margy had made the mistake of trying to approach us as a ‘cool’ equal, allowing us to call her by her first name, hard ‘g’ and all, and ultimately evoking our predatory nature as children. It was only many years later that I began to appreciate the effort she was making.
“Daniel knew,” she promised us, then raised her voice slightly to compete with our disinterested chatter. “He knew that the Lord would protect him from the lion, so he did as the Romans asked, and…”
“How?” Bertie Wilson interrupted.
Flustered already, Margy stumbled, “How…how did he…?”
“How did he know,” Bertie clarified with exaggerated impatience, “that God would protect him?”
I remember Margy brightening, here, believing in her naiveté that there was a correct answer to this question. “Well, it’s because he was one of the Lord’s children. His faith gave him the strength to…”
“What about the lion?” Bertie interjected again.
“What about…what about—?”
At age ten, I was never confident enough to begin a conflict, but joining one that had already begun was my favorite sport. “Yeah,” I joined. “Didn’t God make the lion, too?”
“Of course He did,” Margy agreed, her face creasing with uncertainty over the direction of all this.
“Well, then,” I explained, palms up as though my point was obvious, “the lion might have had faith that the Lord would provide his supper.”
“Oh, no,” Margy protested, growing genuinely concerned for our souls. “That’s very different. You see, Daniel was made in God’s image—”
“Wasn’t the lion?” I asked abruptly, but Bertie robbed me of the pleasure of hearing her answer.
“No, Dave, she’s right,” he said. “Lions are made in Astro Lion’s image.”
This was an obvious reference to a character from the Masters of the Universe, one of those three-pose cartoons that seem to be made from cardboard cutouts, but, miraculously, find popularity in the undiscerning hearts of children. His comments set the small crowd of its fans into delighted remembrances of their favorite episodes, and chants of Astro Lion’s name.
Being over the age of twelve, Margy did not understand any of this. “Whoever Astro Lion is,” she stated certainly, “he is not in the Bible.”
“Well,” Greg Parsons joined in, “what was the lion’s name?” A notorious bully, it was unusual for Greg to join us in any pursuit, and his sudden camaraderie against Margy delighted us into laughter.
“The lion’s name is never mentioned,” Margy foolishly admitted.
“Then how do you know it wasn’t Astro Lion?” Bertie argued, delivering his killing blow. “Maybe Astro Lion had faith that Daniel was his dinner.”
This set Sally Barlow, the youngest in the group, into tears over the embarrassment that a poorly lip-synched stock image of a vaguely feline denizen from the Moto Universe might have woodenly unhinged his jaw to swallow Daniel alive in front of all those Romans. As cheaply made as the cartoon may have been, though, to our young minds it had the advantage of not being Sunday School, so the rest of us began modifying our chants to cheer Astro on against the biblical hero.
That had been one of many occasions that we sent a youth leader up our church’s basement stairs crying, and I wondered, now, if Margy would be consoled by the knowledge that the parable seemed to be guiding my adult self. Daniel and Astro Lion were on my mind as I tossed aside the glass doors of McManus, Farthwell and Pierce, Attorneys-at-law, with my driving-school posse in tow. For me, facing an attorney on her own turf could not have been more of a lion’s den, but our deadly encounter with the SUV had stopped me from caring.
I steamed across the polished tile lobby, only curbing my approach when my fists were leaning on the receptionist’s desk. Somewhere behind me, the Roadkill Crew staggered forward uncertainly.
“I’m here for Alfresca Sorrenti,” I glowered.
Almost predictably, she asked, “Do you have an appointment?” Her cheerful question beamed through my angry fog, and she reminded some recess in my mind of the innocents that heroes like Daniel strove to protect.
This echo of sympathy, however, did not prevent me from carnivorously devouring her polite question. “An appointment?” I spat. “Gee, I don’t know: maybe Charles Delano made an appointment for me, or maybe the maniac in the SUV called ahead before he tried to run me off of a freeway.”
By now, the poor girl was searching frantically through a leather-bound Daytimer. “I don’t see anything—”
This was when Astro Lion took possession of me and roared. “Just get her!” I demanded, and I would have said much more and much worse, had Digley not stepped between us to intervene by slapping his running recorder on her desk.
“Yeah, that’s right, darlin’,” he said as his phone’s icons swirled. “You’re under the eye of the press.”
“I…am?” the receptionist asked uncertainly.
“Of course you are! After all these years of protecting your tightroping bosses, Douglas Digley is right here, in your presence.”
“Digley,” she muttered. “Should I know you? Are you a client?”
As the girl tried to piece this together, Danny, who had been checking light fixtures, rounded the lobby to pass near her desk. “There’s a bulb out in the third northeast fixture,” he announced, “and the one right in the northwest corner is cool white instead of warm.” He paused to regard her expectantly, then furrowed his brow when her only response was to blink. “Well,” he insisted, sweeping a gesture toward the phone on her desk, “you might want to call someone.”
“You mean…Miss Sorrenti?” she asked.
“No!” he flung. “The maintenance crew!”
“Yes! Miss Sorrenti!” I interjected, fearing that Danny’s impatience was starting to upstage mine.
Despite herself, the receptionist sought eye contact with me, clearly preferring my angry company to the unrehearsed tap-show unfolding around her. “As I explained, sir,” she doubly explained, “you need an appointment.”
This set Digley back onto her like he had a camera crew with him. “Would you like to comment,” he oozed, “on this firm’s unwillingness to allow the public access to legal representation?”
“You need—” she struggled.
“What if I was just convicted of a DUI?” he interrupted. “What if I’d been the victim of office discrimination, because I’m transitioning?” Leaning over her desk to cast his voice toward the recording phone, he flailed an arm at me. “What if Mr. Bosley, here, was a crazed fan who had stolen my identity to give himself the stature in the world he so craves? ‘Civil Servant, or Civil Suit?’
Some days, time spent planning careful and reasoned arguments just can’t compete with a good, solid dose of weirdness. I muzzled my temper to let Digley do my work for me; he was not wearing her down for the reasons he thought, but a result is a result. “If I call her,” she bargained, “will you stop recording me?”
He pinched his nose, and blew into two fingers. “’Course, sweetheart. But only ‘cause we’re after the boss.”
“Any reason will do,” she agreed, extricating herself to dial the phone.
Danny was looking at Porkbelly to share his exasperation. “Can you believe this?”
“Yes,” she replied, her default response to nearly all questions.
“I mean, right? This is a professional lobby, and those light bulbs aren’t gonna change themselves.” He pressed her for an opinion as though she had been speaking English for decades. “Are they?”
“Yes,” she agreed, as she knew any true friend would.
“All three of you,” I demanded, as an elevator door slid aside, “there’s a bench over there. Use it!”
“But I didn’t bring my cushion,” Danny started to protest, stopping short against the field of rage he felt emanating from me. “I’ll sit on my coat,” he murmured, before steering Porkbelly toward the waiting area.
Digley, for his part, was not nearly so quick to comply. “You’ll need me for this,” he slithered, eyeing Alfie’s approach as if she were the second helping from a buffet. “We’ll take them down the old-fashioned way, with ink: ‘Quick to Judge’.”
“No, Digley,” I snapped, turning to show him an upraised palm. I do not need you fantasizing that you’re winning a Pulitzer while I try to find out why assassins are out to kill me. I…just…don’t!” I punctuated for emphasis.
“Grouchy…” he cautioned, taking a step or two backward but not quite joining the others.
This retreat roughly corresponded with Alfie’s arrival, making me wonder whether she had adjusted her pace to synchronize them. “Mr. Bosley,” she greeted as though she had been expecting me. “Did you have a change of heart?”
If I had been cruising on anger before, this comment shifted me toward fury. “A change of…listen, Miss Sorrenti, if these are the frightening tactics you employ to coerce witness testimony, then all you might get me to change is my shorts.”
This brought a chuckle from Digley behind me, while Alfie protested, “Mr. Bosley!”
I was on a downhill rant by now, though, unwilling to let either of them interrupt me. “Everything I’ve ever assumed about your profession is true. It’s not just the reputation lawyers have, and it’s not just what they did to me before. Not just…just…”
Here, I choked a little, but neither of them seemed willing to jump in any longer. Specters purely my own chained my anger and strangled my voice, and, for a moment, I was buried under the cascade of a whole different emotion.
After a pause, I sensed Digley stepping back toward me while Alfie reached out and gently took my elbow. “Mr. Bosley? Are you—?”
The shock of my reaction virtually knocked her backwards. “Don‘t touch me,” I shouted. “Don’t you ever touch me, not you or any of your kind!”
“Deebo,” Digley steadied from my shoulder, his voice stripped of its manipulative edge.
“No,” I objected again, turning my rage toward him. “She can’t do this. She thinks she can control lives, and make decisions about other people’s futures. She thinks she can have me run off the road…”
“Off the road?” Alfie doubled in surprise.
“…and that I’ll just help her decide someone’s guilt or innocence. It’s no good.”
“Mr. Bosley, I—”
“I said it’s no good!” In my periphery, I noticed the lobby’s receptionist picking up a phone receiver, presumably to call security, but even that threat barely curbed the part of me I had let off-leash. Some other part—some distant observer within me—knew that I was losing more of my control than I’d had in years. Guilt and anger from years before were colliding with the shock of that morning’s experience to create a mangle of passions that had me crying for justice and revenge all at once. “It’s no good,” I shouted again. “It’s not right!”
“That is enough!”
Everything came to a halt with Alfie’s demand, both in the building’s lobby and in my churning gut. I’m not sure where the frantic encounter would have ended if her voice hadn’t so suddenly taken on such a determined and forceful edge. As it was, she had turned the room into a frozen snapshot surrounding us; her receptionist frozen with the phone receiver, Danny and Porkbelly frozen where they had been rising to their feet, and Digley frozen with the start of a grin birthing on his lips. Her outburst gave us our first glimpse of how this timid girl might make her way in a cutthroat profession like Law.
“Mr. Bosley,” Alfie continued through gritted teeth, now that she had our attention, “I have been completely and thoroughly honest with you. My client, Charles Delano, named you as a material witness to his innocence against the charges of theft and deadly assault that he is facing.”
“But I don’t know—”
Alfie cut me short with a tiny, raised hand that also convinced her receptionist to replace the telephone receiver gently into its cradle; apparently, Alfie herself was all the security they needed against me. “No—you’ve had your say, and now it’s my turn. I defend people, Mr. Bosley. I defend them,” she repeated, clasping her hands with the strength of her beliefs. “Whatever you may think, it is noble work, and I do it for the two best reasons in the world: to pay my bills, and to help others. If you think for one minute that I would compromise that ideal by sending thugs after you, then you and I need to have a long conversation.”
This was the Alfie I would come to know. Despite my anger and terror, there was a bud of the warmth I would feel for her already sprouting within me. This contradiction—these conflicting emotions—worked together as ingredients in an unfamiliar mojo that left me speechless.
“You’re partly right,” Digley said, breaking the spell and drawing both of our gazes. “You idiots do need a conversation, both of you: just not with each other.”
That grin he’d been nurturing began to spread triumphantly when he realized that he’d left us both stupid. Digley had figured something out that nobody else could follow, and that was exactly the sort of moment he savored. Maybe he was a reporter, after all.
“Why, don’t you see?” he shared after a pause. “You both need to talk to Charles Delano.”
Charlie had managed to avoid any real confrontations so far, but the sheer size of his fellow inmate in the doorway made him suspect that his luck had evaporated. The look on the giant’s face, as Charlie approached, confirmed his suspicions. Uselessly, he muttered, “‘Scuse me, friend.”
“I think you ain’t,” Prisoner Number 75342 grunted in response, drawing up his bulk to fill even more of the doorway. His size, for all its intimidation, only amped the fear inspired by his appearance; he had managed to convince the barber to shave his head even more closely than was standard, and he wore the scars on his face and neck as tributes to the many fights he had won. Charlie had no doubt that this simian would kill to maintain his status, nor that the chattering chimps gathered around the small laundry alcove would help him do so.
Charlie bought himself a few seconds under the guise of seeking clarification. “You think I’m not…what?”
The behemoth closed the space between them to within an inch, treating Charlie to a sulphurous blast of his breath. “I think,” he insisted, “that you ain’t my friend. If you was my friend, you’d be givin’ me stuff, like these guys do.” Gesturing to the agreeable group around him, he added, “You’d be protectin’ me.”
Dropping his cool in favor of sarcasm, Charlie reacted, “Protecting you? From what? Nuclear warfare? Stray tyrannosaurs? Oh, I know,” he decided, feigning an idea, “you want nutritional advice to protect you from clogged arteries.”
He knew that provocation was a dangerous tactic, for more reasons than just the obvious. It really didn’t matter whether these prisoners knew what he could do, but if the warden’s office discovered his skills, it could threaten his cover–and that would put the man he needed to protect back under threat. Still, he could little afford to be caught up in the infirmary, nor to have this group of hatchet-heads distracting him when his chance came around. He needed to send them a powerful message, and in their own language.
With the immovable ringer leading an advance against him, Charlie visualized the positions of the cameras from his initial reconnaissance of the building. If this had to happen, he decided, it was best that it happen here; the machinery in the laundry room into which he was retreating would provide the best possible cover against surveillance.
“You callin’ me fat?” his future assailant growled.
He spared a glance or two around him, searching for ways to use anything that Bill had taught him before switching sides. He forced a shrug, taking the giant’s solid arm in his hand. “Well,” he mused, “your body-mass index does seem high for your stature.” Shifting his hand to explore the pillar of sinew around his neck, Charlie asked, “Do you ever feel faint?” before plunging two fingers between the nerves he found there.
Working through the muscle in this prehistoric neck delayed the usual paralysis from what Bill had called ‘The Lullaby,’ and Charlie’s assailant–his victim–actually managed to wrench Charlie’s opposite shoulder partway from its socket before dropping. As Charlie had planned, the bulk of him filled the passage between a bank of washers and dryers, causing his posse to clamber over him while Charlie retreated around an intersecting row of machines. Crouched beneath the range of the cameras, he spared a few seconds to silently replace his shoulder into its joint, then hastily tied a bedsheet that was awaiting the dry cycle between the legs of two machines.
Two of the hyenas bulleted past before a third noticed him, and rounded the corner squawking to his companions. The sheet drew taut against his pursuer’s ankle, and Charlie managed a blow to the back of his neck as he went down, then to one of his friends, then to the other. Now that the three of them were dispatched with a speed of which even Bill might have approved, Charlie took a moment to massage his shoulder, conscious that he had only doubled his chances: three more of them were still out there searching for him.
Still conscious of the cameras, he used his good arm to haul himself, in stages, up a pressurized pipe of cold water, until he was able to belly along the tops of the industrialized machines. As if Bill–the old Bill–were still here advising him, he drove from his mind the distractions of the humming machinery and approaching bullies, cutting through them with the razor-sharp memories of what he had learned from his duties here in this room. This was laundry on a grand scale; each day, they washed and dried enough sheets, towels and uniforms to intimidate the grandest of luxury hotels. They worried more about infections than fabric, here, so the colors were all uniform, the machines all many times the size of the average mother’s, and the water, he remembered, was scaldingly hot.
With this thought, he began to kick at the twin of the pipe he had climbed. The noise of this attracted the remainder of the giant’s bargain SS, but with one kick to go, Charlie knew he was ready for them. He opened the enormous door of the dryer just beneath him, and, ignoring the pain in his injured shoulder, reached downward and back to gather armloads of linen. Still poised that way, he waited for the odds to close against him, so that he could beat them again.
He didn’t need to wait long. Within another minute, the remaining four of this makeshift army found their fallen brothers in this corridor of machines, chaotic but determined as they haphazardly searched the crevices far beneath him. Not one of them thought to look upward until they heard the rustle and rush of thirty pounds of linen falling toward them, and Charlie caught gratifying glimpses of their stupefied faces as they stared toward their fate.
Muffled snatches of their anger reached him as they struggled: “How did?” and, “Kill him,” and even, “Allergic to Downey,” but the threats and confusion blended into screams when Charlie opened the hot-water pipe with one final kick.
Trapped under scalding swaths of sheets that were growing heavier with each quart of water that soaked them, the whimpering men were Charlie’s now: his prisoners within a larger prison. Bill would have told him to negotiate their loyalty in exchange for freedom, but he just didn’t have the time. A retreat into the routines of dining and recreation was essential, and before the split pipe was discovered. Jogging along a route that would keep him invisible to the prison’s cameras, he was planning in his mind how to translate his victory into an assurance of their help, when he bounced a few feet off of Prisoner 75342, who was blocking the exit with his bulk.
He had shaken off The Lullaby impossibly quickly. And he was angry.
Charlie’s shoulders slumped briefly before he crouched back into a fighting stance. “Tell me your name,” he sighed, making no effort to hide his exasperation.
This cracked the prisoner’s anger with a brief look of confusion. “Charger,” he said, then asked, “Why?”
“I need a name to report to the infirmary after I drop you.”
This promise brought a roar from Charger, before he reared back and lived up to his name. Charlie braced his limbs for the impact; he would need to do this quickly.
He simply could not afford to miss his visit from David Bosley.