From the desk of the editor,
Welcome to another exciting issue of Larks Fiction Magazine! We are dedicated to displaying the very best in independent art.
Thank you for joining us,
Daniel J. Pool
by L. Upton Illig
Walter: “Can you hear me now?”
Mike: “Yeah, yeah, stop yelling. But I still don’t get it. Why’s he want to sell a satellite killer to those thugs? Savannakhosa is just a pile of rocks!”
Walter: “I don’t know, it wasn’t clear. He wants to trade it for something. Upstream, downstream, midstream—I couldn’t make sense of it. I’m not even sure Falling Star is an anti-satellite weapon. That’s what it sounded like. I think it’s dangerous!”
Mike: “Well, he can’t get away with a stunt like that by himself. Somebody’s gotta be helping him!”
Walter: “Of course he’s got partners, but I don’t know their numbers.”
Mike: “Swell. Well, we gotta do something. First, you’ll need to—”
Walter: “What are you talking about?”
Mike: “What do you mean?”
Walter: “We can’t interfere. Have you forgotten the Code?”
Mike: “The Code! What about the truth?”
Walter: The truth! Who knows what the truth is? Anyway, it’s too late. The trade is going to go down after the election, and that’s only two months away.”
Mike: “And that makes it okay? Listen to yourself! Do you like hanging with that weasel, listening to his lies?”
Walter: “Don’t be ridiculous. And listen to yourself! Just because you ride with a taxi driver doesn’t mean you have to talk like one!”
Mike: “Oh, yeah, like it could be worse. Like I could start talking like a politician!”
(Pause, and dialing it down)
Walter: “I’m sorry, Mike. I don’t know what I’m saying anymore. I’m drained. There’s been so much activity this week.”
Mike: “Forget it. Riding around Baltimore at three in the morning—it ain’t no picnic, but at least it’s for real. You don’t never get that. What makes those guys so twisted? Word on the street is, that whenever the guy gets nervous, his eye begins to go all queer on him. Does he seem batty to you? Is he a crook and a nut job? What’s wrong with him? What’s wrong with all of them? Why can’t they just tell the simple truth?”
Walter: “That would be a question for Maslow, my friend. Is it the ego, or the greed? Who can tell? Still, I know that you hear some pretty grim cases yourself.”
Mike: “Oh, yeah, grim all right! I’ve been around The Block more than once, if you catch my meaning. And the sorry cases I hear—I’m telling you, people here are living on the edge of nowhere. Nowhere, Wally!”
Walter: “But didn’t I hear something—wasn’t the government supposed to build some sort of urban renewal project, to help them—”
Mike: “Sure! After they help themselves! Look—ain’t there nothing you can do?”
Walter: “I haven’t got any evidence. And there’s no time.”
Mike: “Okay. But listen—if you do ever get something—something that could make a difference—see, I got this friend, his name’s Oscar. You don’t know him—he’s with some gent at The Daily News. I can give you his number.”
Walter: “I can’t violate the Code!”
Mike: “But if you don’t do nothing, and you stop folks from knowing the truth, what’s so moral about that?”
(Silence, and a sigh)
Walter: “I’ve always wondered, Mike…what’s it like, down on The Block? Do you know people there?”
Mike: “Listen, Wally, I don’t think you want to get mixed up with them folks. They got hard lives. It would shock you pretty bad if you saw how some folks was living.”
Walter: “No, no, it’s not for me personally. It’s just that…maybe I can do something. Did you ever hear of Churchill and the ‘bodyguard of lies?’”
Mike: “Hold on, I’m beginning to lose you.”
Walter: “Those people on The Block. Could you give me some of their numbers, Mike? Right now?”
Mike: “Sure, if that’s what you want. I see all kinds. I got plenty. But, be careful, will you?”
Walter: “I will. And Mike—what did you say Oscar’s number was?”
“September 3, 2024—According to police officers, a man was arrested on E. Baltimore Street on Tuesday night following—” No. “At approximately 8 p.m., a man described as a suspect in the latest Southeast District crime wave—” Nope. “The murder-arson that has rocked the neighborhood of—” No way. Wilson rolled back his chair. How many times have I written this story? But after thirteen years, he knew. The gray computer sitting on his desk stared at him. Eleven-thirty p.m. He stretched his arms and yawned, amused at how the sound echoed over the rows of empty cubicles. He read over the last words. Not exactly Donne or Herrick. What would his old English professors think of him now? At least he had a job. And a reputation for giving his readers facts instead of melodrama. No one could take that away from him. It was just that after all the years of muggings and shootings and robberies… Get over it, Wilson. Write the lede, plug in the details, file it and go home. At least you’re not writing the society page. He grinned as he pictured the Sunday Styles editor, a balding man fending off frantic brides. He slid his chair back to the desk. Okay, wind it up! “On Tuesday night a man believed to be the prime suspect in—” From underneath the papers by his computer the notes of the 1812 Overture rumbled. He sighed. Thank goodness it wasn’t his wife, scolding him for missing the kids’ bedtime. They would still be at Grandmom’s, and not due back until Friday. But whoever it was, he needed to answer it before the cannons exploded again. A two-alarm headache wouldn’t help now. He pushed the papers away, barely missing his cup with cold coffee in it, and grabbed his cell phone. A text message was waiting. Outside The Daily News building, lights in the high-rises across the city street dimmed. Inside, the air grew stale as the cooling system boomed and, with a final gasp, shut down. He re-read the last line. “Email 2 follow.” He leaned back, and glanced sideways at the mail icon on his desktop. “New Messages (1).” Okay. I’ll bite. He sat up, clicked the mouse, and began reading a file that materialized in front of him. A little after midnight the managing editor of The Daily News, Rory McKenzie, fumbled on the nightstand for the ringing telephone. I shouldn’t have stayed up for that O’s game. I’ll never get back to sleep now. A three-year-old best seller fell off the table, and the clock radio slid against the wall. Why don’t those bums play more day games? He found the receiver and grunted what he hoped were intelligible words. He listened for a long time. Finally he told Wilson, “Okay. Take all the time you need. I’ll get someone else to cover your beat. But I’m coming in.” He hung up and sat on the bed, staring out the window. A slight breeze blew the curtain back and forth, as humid air, tinged with the smell of rain, stole over the sill and into the room.
He jogged down the stairs, each Berluti hitting the next step a little harder. The election was next week, and the media hounds were predicting a landslide. The irony was enough to make one laugh—or weep.
And yet—and yet—the polls had had him at 59 percent approval last week. But this week he was only at 57! Could there have been a mistake?
His eye—he felt his right eye twitch. The uncontrollable one! The tell! Had he done something wrong? Said something amiss? Or was it his hat? Too retro for this? Was it too straight—that part in his hair? Should he cover his bald spot—did he dare?
He should never have left his job as the host of Celebrity Now. If he had only known the truth…but it was too late. Once, he had been able to hide behind teleprompters and props. Now he stood on center stage, alone. Everybody was watching him—the watchers—their watches ticking—ticking to the tolling of the polls, polls, polls…
But the oil wasn’t going to run out on his guard. He might have inherited a mess but he’d outsmart everyone yet. So what if the Sava hoodlums got nukes? Falling Star was trivial compared to the coming train wreck this country was going to face. But there was no doubt: the oil discovery in Savannakhosa would produce enough fuel to push the energy crisis well into the next decade. It was a most reasonable trade—nukes for them, oil for him—who wouldn’t pardon such a forgivable sin?
The voters were a most compliant flock.
And when the lights finally went out, he’d be gone. Game, set, and match. He was surprised, therefore, when he turned at the bottom of the stairs to see the Chief of Staff enter the hall. “Ed, what brings you here this early? Don’t tell me we got another boost in the polls last night!” He flashed the thumbs-up sign, sliding into the engaging screen persona he played so well. “You need to read this, sir.” Ed held a newspaper in front of him. “The Daily News? Are you kidding? I don’t even read my daily briefs, let alone that trash! Trust me, I don’t have time for this. I’m on my way to a donor breakfast and for what those jokers paid, I can’t make them wait. Leave it in my office—I’ll look at it later.” Ed blocked his path. “You need to see it now, sir.” Frowning at the impertinence—Ed had become a little too familiar during the last few months—he took the paper. The letters on the front page peered up at him, but they seemed distant, morphing into unfamiliar shapes. “What?” He shook the paper, like a dog with a toy, until the words emerged sharp and clear and the headline screamed “President Accused in Baltimore Crime, Gambling Ring” and below that “Information from cell phone records for the past three weeks, and verified by independent reporting by The Daily News, confirms
that—” He leaned against the staircase. “These are—lies!” “Of course, Mr. President.” “No, you don’t understand—it’s all a lie!” His voice began to rise. “Get me the Attorney General. No, wait, I’ll get him myself!” He pulled out his cell phone and pressed the number he knew so well. No response. His hand dropped to his side. The phone continued to ring. He looked up at Ed. The Chief of Staff was standing three feet away, but he seemed to be in a different universe. “You get it, don’t you, Ed? You see? I’ve been set up!” He hurled the cell phone against the staircase and bolted from the hall, shouting for his press secretary. The Chief was alone. Sunlight had begun to enter the window through the blinds, and the dark, lined faces of Washington and Lincoln frowned down at him from the walls. Ed sighed, and reached for his own cell phone, hard and smooth, deep inside his pocket. He had some calls of his own to make. Walter lay at the foot of the stairs, broken from the blow, life draining from his circuits. His screen was shattered. He would never contact anyone again: not Mike, not Oscar, nor any of his new friends on East Baltimore Street. But it was all right. It had been quite an adventure, had it not? And as for the truth—well, my friend, the truth is not always simple.
Thank you for reading. Make sure to check out our other fine issues and come back next week for another edition of Larks Fiction Magazine!
EDIT 01/15/2014: removed Jason Lea's 'The Ballad of Martin Salthausen' upon request by author.