* * *
HANNITY: Well, look. I mean, I respect you all very highly. I do. I know that you were all fighting the good fight, and keeping America safe from our enemies. But I have to ask this. I have to. How did you not know the kind of person SPYGOD actually was? Dr. Power, you claim to be the greatest magician on the face of the Earth. How could you have missed this?
DR. POWER: I do not merely claim to be, young sir. I am. But I have to be frank. There are a lot of things about my colleague -- my former colleague, excuse me, that have baffled even my superior abilities. His use of the Chandra Eye makes him difficult to read at the best of times, especially if he does not wish to be read. So he could have been this monster we saw all the other day, all along, and we simply may not have known.
MRS. LIBERTY: Well, with all respect to the good doctor, Sean, in our profession you have to understand that sometimes people can change. And sometimes people are changed without their knowledge or consent, too. I remain unconvinced that he wasn't mind controlled or something.
HANNITY: Oh come on. Please-
MRS. LIBERTY: And until such time as we learn otherwise, I think we should give him the benefit of the doubt.
HANNITY: Please, ma'am. Please. I mean, I know you-
MRS. LIBERTY: No, Sean. No. Either we believe that everyone is innocent until proven guilty in a court of law, or we just throw away the basic principles that make this country great.
HANNITY: He was seen doing this on television, ma'am. The whole nation saw him.
MRS. LIBERTY: And maybe we did, and maybe we didn't. I've seen a lot of strange things in my time, and I am not going to throw him to the lions until I hear it from his own mouth.
HANNITY: Well, let me get another opinion in on this. We're at Bethesda with a former colleague of yours. Gold Standard, who I understand has been fighting cancer for the last few years. Sir, can you hear us?
GOLD STANDARD: Yes I can, Sean. I apologize if you'll... have to turn your microphone up to hear me. They say my lungs... are mostly gone by now. Kind of gooey...
HANNITY: Well, I think I join all of America when I say how sorry I am to hear of your plight, sir.
GOLD STANDARD: That's very kind of you, Sean. But... that's what happens when you wear a mostly-untested battle suit... for more than sixty years. I think the miracle here is... that I didn't get cancer before I was fifty, rather than.... than after I was in my eighties. I have no regrets, though.
HANNITY: Well, sir, the reason why I called you onto this show with your former colleagues, I understand that you are at long last releasing your memoirs?
MRS. LIBERTY: Oh no. Please no.
GOLD STANDARD: Yes indeed, sir. I figured... 'why not?' It's not like there's anything in there that would compromise... anyone, though I think a few people might... be shocked about some of what we got into, back in... back in the day. But there is one thing in there that is relevant to this, yes.
HANNITY: I understand you released an early portion of it to a left-leaning outfit, some time ago, and they've been siting on it all this time?
GOLD STANDARD: Well, I didn't release any of... the manuscript to them. There was an affidavit made concerning certain actions that I took... quite some time ago, in the mid-70's--
DR. POWER: Edward, please. No. I would remind you--
HANNITY: Sir, Doctor? Doctor, please let him speak. He's a dying man--
MRS. LIBERTY: We swore an oath not to talk about this. An important oath, as people and as Strategic Talents. There is no need to reopen this, Edward--
HANNITY: Excuse me, ma'am, but I think there is. This goes to the heart of the issue, here. Gold Standard, sir? I think you wanted to talk about another time that SPYGOD killed a President.
GOLD STANDARD: Yes. William McKinley. He shot William McKinley. He... pretended to be the man's actual assassin and killed him in his place.
HANNITY: Is that not true, Mrs. Liberty?
MRS. LIBERTY: ... but...
HANNITY: Ma'am, please. Part of the basic principles of this country is that the truth is greater than lies. Don't the American people deserve the truth?
DR. POWER: I am gone.
HANNITY: Well, your colleague's vanished into thin air. Are you going to follow him?
MRS. LIBERTY: Look, yes, it's true. Yes. He killed President McKinley. But there are... there are...
HANNITY: You mean that SPYGOD killed an American President, more than forty years ago, and you've been sitting on this truth the entire time?
MRS. LIBERTY: Look, just ask Edward. Ask Gold Standard. There is more to this story. It wasn't like he wanted to do it. We had to. History was at stake.
HANNITY: History was at stake?
MRS. LIBERTY: Yes. I don't even think we should be talking about this. Ask Edward.
HANNITY: Well, it looks like we've lost our connection with Bethesda. I'm getting word that Gold Standard is... well, they say he's indisposed. They did say he might be in and out under medication. So I'll just ask you, straight up. Did SPYGOD shoot and kill an American President?
MRS. LIBERTY: He had to. Yes. But--
HANNITY: Okay then. We'll take a break here--
MRS. LIBERTY: There's more to this story than *crackle*
HANNITY: When we come back, we'll be talking with other people who knew SPYGOD for what he actually was.
* * *
"... minor panic broke out in Grand Central Station, today, as Neo York City transit police thought they saw SPYGOD entering a train. Thankfully, no one was seriously hurt in the resulting stampede caused by a junior officer shouting his name and firing at the doors. That incident marks the fourth erroneous SPYGOD sighting in the city since the assassination -- a situation exacerbated by the so-called Army of SPYGOD, who are claiming to be arranging these sightings as a socio-political statement..."
* * *
Half the world away, Zalea Zathros finishes making herself come -- twice over, this time -- and then closes her eyes, content to rest up against herselves and enjoy the echoing sensation.
Unfortunately, she also picks that time to come into the bedroom from the workshop, smiling ear to ear, to give some news of interest: "SPYGOD's being crucified in absentia."
All three Zaleas on the bed -- naked and sweating with rapture, however interrupted -- turn their heads and rise in unison.
"How badly?" Asks one.
"How often?" Asks another.
"How can we turn this to our advantage?" Asks the third.
"Very badly, quite often," the one who was out in the workshop -- along with three others -- says, putting down the tool she was using and cracking her fingers, one at a time. It's a habit her father tried to break her of, in her youth. She still does it when she's trying to think of a plan, and the others quickly echo the motion.
(It reminds her of how good it felt when the plan she concocted to kill her father -- when she was but ten years old -- succeeded so well.)
"As for advantages," the third says, lying across herselves, cracking and popping one finger at a time: "We have spent years cataloging all sort of useful and condemnatory information about The COMPANY."
"All we would have to do is see that it was given to the right people," another on the bed offers.
"And then he would look all the worse for those little... eccentricities," the one by the door finishes.
"But we will be providing the final stroke ourselves," one on the bed says, draping herself against her other self: "When the kariolis dies, it will be by our hand, not theirs."
"Agreed," all of her, all over the hideout, say in unison.
The one by the door smiles and walks towards the bed, unbuttoning her work shirt. One of the ones in the bed gets up and disrobes her, one item at a time, and puts the clothes on herself. Then she takes the tool left by the door and leaves the other three to their fun.
Time to work, now; the world won't conquer itself.
* * *
"... well, you may remember the Birthers, who claimed that the President had not been born in America, and was therefore not eligible to hold the position. Since the assassination, most of them have gotten extremely quiet for obvious reasons. However, there's a new group of them out there, making waves on the internet. These so-called Deathers are insisting that the President was not actually assassinated, but faked his death in order to escape being found out as a fraud by Birther investigations. As we speak, a lawsuit against the Federal Government has been filed, demanding to see the body and ensure that it is, indeed, that of the President...."
* * *
"I really don't know what you want me to say here," former Secret Service Agent Jess Friend tells the two men in his hospital room. His right arm is elevated to help with the healing, but the gnarled and broken mess at the stump still makes him feel sick and want to cry.
(Realizing he's going to have to pay for the hospitalization out of pocket doesn't make him feel any better.)
"It's just a matter of consistency, Mr. Friend," the one fellow asks him, looming over him on the left side of the bed.
"Crossing the 't's, dotting the 'i's," the other says, standing by the closed door with his foot up against it, so no one can enter: "I'm sure you understand."
"The other folks all wanted to know about what that !@#$ did to me in the hallway," Jess says: "This is the first anyone's asked about what I saw in the Oval Office."
"Just to be certain," the one by the door says, pulling a piece of paper out of his suitcoat: "You said there were two people in the room, the President and SPYGOD?"
"But you also said someone entered the Oval Office just before SPYGOD appeared, and killed Agent Young," the one on the left says, leaning a little closer: "Where did he go, Jess?"
"That's just it. I don't know," Jess sighs, closing his eyes as he does: "When I got into the room, I thought I saw three people. But then there were only two. I don't know where the third guy went."
"And you said he was wearing a uniform you didn't recognize?" the one by the door asks.
"Yeah. There were a lot of uniforms that day, though. Mostly Supers. And he did get waved through, so..."
"Was there anything else odd?" the one on the Left asks, leaning in just that much more.
For a moment, Jess thinks about telling him about the weird sensation he got before SPYGOD showed up; the sense that something had changed inside the Oval Office, behind the door he was guarding, and had done so just after the man in the weird uniform had gone in.
But before he can, he gets another weird sensation. This one tells him not to say anything more about that, and he decides to obey it.
"I think that was it, really," he says, sighing: "Like I said, I've told everything I can remember."
The one on his left hangs over him for what feels like an eternity, and for a moment Jess fears he's going to say he doesn't believe him. But he leans back up again, smiles, and nods as he heads for the door.
"Thank you for your time, Jess. We'll be in touch, again."
"And if you remember anything else, just call us," the one at the door says.
And then they're off, with one of them whistling some old tune by the Beatles. Something about it sends hackles up his spine -- much like the time he almost stepped out to cross the street but didn't, and thereby avoided being mowed down by an out of control, speeding, and brakeless semi when he was ten years old.
He gets the distinct feeling he just dodged another bullet. But how long he can keep ducking and weaving is a !@#$ good question.
* * *
"... And, on the lighter side, we have reports that some of our city's stray animals may have something of an attitude. John Schlotz, a former animal control officer, went public today with what sounds like an incredible story. He says that he responded to a call that a stray cat was making a real ruckus in Central Park, but that when he found the cat it was drinking vodka and shooting at ducks with a machine gun. Undaunted, he tried to trap it, but was chased for at least half a mile by the unamused kitty, and when he brought back more officers the ill-tempered feline was gone. The Department of Animal Control declined to comment directly to his statement, or our questions, but said that Schlotz was recently suspended for reasons they chose not to disclose. Back to you, Tom."
* * *
It was another lazy afternoon at The Conch Shack, off of Duval St. in sunny, scenic Key West. Marie, who's mom ran the place, was waiting tables as usual. And, as usual, there weren't that many customers at this time of the afternoon. Just the old guy who hugged the corner table all day, nursing one tall beer an hour, and a tourist couple who'd come in for -- what else -- Conch chowder.
The shack specialized in cheap beer and conch meat, along with some token hamburger and hot dog recipes that her older brother came up with, back when her mom and dad put the restaurant together. Since then, her brother had gone on to med school, and dad had run away with her mother's brother, leaving just Marie and her mom to look after the business. But the succession of cooks they'd gotten to work there since then had been more than willing to continue the tradition of the Key West slop burger and Florida slaw dog, if only because they didn't have anything better to contribute.
One day, they'd sell the place and get out of Key West. Marie knew this, or at least hoped it. Everyone who comes to Key West wishes they could live there, but anyone who's actually born there wants to get the !@#$ out as soon as they can. Unless they're insane, that is. Or queer.
Musing on her upcoming escape, she doesn't even see the new customer come in. First there is a table, then there's someone at the table, then there is.
"I'll have a Key West Sunset Ale," he says: "And a bowl of the Conch Chowder."
"We don't have any Sunset Ale," she says, going to get a bowl of the chowder.
"Well, how about a pale ale?" he says: "Key West does a nice one."
"We don't have any of that, either. We got Bud, Bud light, Miller lite-"
"You have to be !@#$ kidding me," the customer snarls: "No !@#$ local beer? The sign over your door said 'Key West,' lady. That's false !@#$ advertising."
"That sign's for Key West, the place, sir," she says, putting the bowl of conch chowder down in front of him: "Not the beer. We've only ever sold big label beer. And if you're going to be rude about it, you can take your order to go."
There's a scary moment when she thinks the fellow is going to do or say something really rude to her. When she feels it, she also gets the feeling that she should know him from somewhere, but for some weird reason her brain just can't quite remember how, or from where.
Then the moment's gone, and he smiles: "You know, you're absolutely right, miss. I shouldn't be rude to you -- you work for a living. Please forgive an old man who forgets how to treat a lady when he needs a beer."
"I'll think about it," she says: "You don't behave I'll have the cook teach you some manners."
"I bet," he says, looking back at the kitchen. The cook in question is smoking and listening to Spanish radio.
"But, they do sell local beers at the bar next door, and I know they let you walk out with a six pack. So you could always go there, get a drink, and come back here. I have no problems with that."
"Well alright, then," the man says, spooning up some of the chowder: "I'll keep that in mind for next time. You got Coke or Pepsi?"
"RC Cola," she says, turning around to get one. As she does he spits up what he just tried to swallow.
"You okay?" she asks as he coughs. He holds up a hand, indicating he's alright. Then he points to what he spat up: white stuff, conch meat, and a cigarette butt.
"Oh my god... Fernando!" she hisses, heading for the kitchen to give the worthless so-and-so a piece of her mind. One swift Spanglish argument later, she's no better or worse off than she was before. But by the time she comes back to apologize to the customer, he's already gone, leaving only a twenty dollar bill under the bowl -- payment, tip, and apology, apparently -- to mark his passing.
The speed in which he left, just like how he entered, distinctly unnerves her. She gets the distinct feeling that the man was extremely dangerous, and could have done something really terrible if he'd chosen to. That, coupled with the feeling that she should know him, somehow, makes her distinctly uneasy for the rest of the day.
And, the next day, when she learns from her mother that they'll be needing a new cook for a while, as Fernando was discovered in a public restroom with his head down the toilet, and three entire cartons' worth of cigarettes shoved up his !@#$hole, Marie has no doubt whatsoever who did it.
Just another weird day in Key West, maybe. But after you live here long enough, you get a distinct feeling when bad weather's on its way.
Something tells her the devil just rode into town, and hell may soon follow after.