20 Code 99
Dr. Jonas Arkavarian watched the majestic red rock spires of Sedona come into view from the window of the helicopter. This is the way to see all this! They were flying up from the south at around fifteen hundred feet above the mesas. Silly to have come all the way out here just to calm down Senator Wallace, but it is a nice ride. Besides the pilot, there were two sunglass-wearing jock types in the back of the four-seater. No doubt they were armed. All the security made it seem like a CIA mission or something, which Jonas found silly, though he understood the necessity. The Senator needed discretion and reassurance; after all, he was the chairman of the Committee on Public Health and controlled the bills that made Xeonosis’ business flow more easily. That bill limiting the damages from implants was huge. In any case, if Charles called, Jonas went.
All these implant failures were troubling. It’s all just discount doctors– none of my implants have failed. Still, there had been a pattern, even going back to the testing phase. All went well at first, and then after ten weeks or so in a few of the patients, the veins and arteries ruptured around the implant, causing the penis to swell up and bleed furiously during an erection. The tissues strained to hold the blood until finally …well, it wasn’t pretty. The damage to the penis was likely to be severe and long-lasting. So far Xeonosis had bought off several of the unlucky men, but a large, news-cycle-driven class-action suit could put the corporation completely out of business. Jonas was glad he was indemnified somewhat from the doings of the company. He had been careful not to get too closely involved on a contractual level. But it wouldn’t be good to have his name associated with the implant it this all went ballistic. He could imagine real bullets.
Still, he was rich as he needed to be, and he’d paid cash for his big place on the lake near HuicaHuica. The Mexican authorities had a proper view of people with money, as long as the rich gringos respected the time-honored traditions of bribery and gift-giving so common south of the border. If things really got tight, he could always say, hasta luego, amigos!
The radio crackled.
“Hey twelve- fourteen, we have a code ninety-nine, I repeat, a code ninety-nine, at location Omega. Copy”
“I read a code ninety-nine at Omega. Is that correct?”
“Ten-four. Bring it on.”
“Roger, putting the hammer down.”
The pilot looked over at Jonas and shouted into his headset above the engine and blade noise, “Hang on, we’re changing course. It’s gonna get personal with these cliffs in a second!”
The pilot cranked the stick to the left and the chopper turned hard and dropped over the rim of a mesa and swooped down between towering rock walls. Arkavarian felt his heart jump and pump.
“What’s a ninety-nine?” he yelled at the pilot.
“What’s location Omega?”
“That’d be the Senator’s girlfriend’s house.”
By the time they chopper put down in a cloud of red dust behind Senator Wallace’s secretary’s house, the ambulances were already there. So was a van from Action5 KSDN.
The video crew caught the stretcher bearing the inert form of the white-haired Senator being wheeled out of the southwestern-style stucco house and got the teary face of the distraught young woman on tape as well. The goons sprang from the chopper and grabbed the young woman and took her inside, temporarily forgetting about Jonas. Jonas could only hang back beyond the slowly spinning blades of the helicopter hoping that he wouldn’t be noticed. Neighbors came out of their houses to gawk and speculate. He stood around among them for a moment and then struck out walking towards a nearby wash and headed for town, just a half-mile to the north. Get a room, get a shuttle back to Phoenix.
As he made his way past the EMT’s in the driveway, he heard one of the excited young techs say to one of his mates, “His dick exploded! I guess he’s not gonna make it!”
Holy crap! He fumbled for his cell. Gotta call Charles right now.
Ace tried Roberta as he drove past Elk Mountain, Wyoming. The phone rang.
“Hi, baby! Where are you?”
“One mile closer to you! Elk Mountain.”
“I’m all packed and ready. I’ll be there by four.”
“You coming through Dillon?’
“Yeah. How are you holding up?”
“Oh, shit, I’m so glad this is about to be over, even though I don’t want to face whatever’s Sheila’s going to do to me. Ever since the news hit, the tour’s been brutal. Last night sucked. There were people yelling all kinds of shit at us: you sellouts, fuckin’ corporate buttsuckers; that kind of thing. Childhood has come to a lousy end, all because we needed to make a living off our old song.”
“I’m sorry, baby. But you are so much more than Childhood; you always were and always will be.”
“Yeah, I know. You know what’s ironic is that this whole thing has changed my life completely, and believe it or not, it’s changed Harry’s, too. He’s in love. He’s not drinking. His girl Fumiko is flying out tonight. She’s on the same flight as Josh. I’m going to pick both of them up at the airport in Salt Lake at three. So I’ll be up in Pocatello around six-thirty, seven. I’m going to let Josh have my room at the Ramada. Are you bringing Ringo?”
“Yes. Two old dogs and two old hippies at the Hell’s Half-Acre Lodge. How perfect!”
“I hope we’ll have the place to ourselves. I can’t imagine anyone in their right mind staying there, no offense, baby!”
Ranger Rick Durbin knocked on the half-open door of the Teton Seismological Laboratory.
“Hey Rick, c’mon in,” came a woman’s voice
“Sally, what’s up?”
“I just thought I should give you a heads up on this data.” She pointed at the roll of paper cascading down fro the seismograph. He could see the squiggly deviations from straight that marked the little quakes that rumbled more or less continuously through the Teton valley and over the whole Yellowstone/ Teton/ Snake River Plain region. The squiggles tapered off to an almost completely flat line for the last several feet of scroll. She swirled her mouse around and a window opened on the computer screen.
Rick peered at it for a moment, rubbing his chin as he bent over.
“Wow, that is interesting, isn’t it? There are basically no shakers at all.”
“It a pattern that we haven’t seen since; guess when?”
“You got it.”
“So tension is building; where’s the focus?”
“Well, it could be up here, of course. But it looks particularly tight along the south edge of the plain. Right about here.” She highlighted an area on the screen’s map.
“Pocatello to Twin Falls. When?”
“You know, impossible to be sure, but it could be anytime. Could be tonight, but absolutely within a month, I’d say.”
“I guess we’d better put out a warning.”
“Just to be safe.”
“Those spud farmers ignore all the warnings.”
“Can’t blame ‘em; they never come true.”
One of these times it will, thought Ranger Rick
Sandy hung her jeans and couple of her old dad’s shirts on the line in the endless Idaho wind. This stuff’ll be dry in fifteen minutes, the air’s so arid. She found herself humming La Llorona. Mexico. Her bag was packed, under her bed where her father wouldn’t see it. Not that he would notice. His mind was going; he was always rambling on about people who weren’t there, about chores he needed to do ten years ago. I’ll miss you, dad, but life’s life. She had her life savings sewn into her clothes and boots: a few hundred here, a few hundred there, almost five thousand dollars. She should have had millions, but Joey had abandoned her after the accident. Well, she had what she had. Enrique said that she’d be able to live on very little in San Luis Zapotlan.
She thought about the others. Ace. It wasn’t his fault. He’d done his best. Harry and Greg, they weren’t involved. But Roberta was. If she hadn’t been trying to make out with Danny while he drove, he wouldn’t have hit that truck. He wouldn’t have died. Jesse would have grown up and would be with me today. Roberta. But Joey is the one who’s going to pay.
Joey, said the voices. And Roberta if she’s there, thought Sandy.
“Don’t answer it, Jas.” said Ella. The cell jangled irritatingly on the console of the Range Rover.
“I’m not.” said Jas laughing.” I don’t know if cold-blooded animals are actually capable of sweating, but if he is, let him sweat. He only called about ten times in the last two days!”
They drove fast across the Utah desert. Big snow-capped mountains rose off to the east. The day was warming; the desert was fairly green.
“God, it’s really beautiful out here! I see why Ace gets off on it.”
“Ella!” Jas chided, “Ace, Ace, Ace!”
“So I have a little crush on the guy. We don’t have to go over it again.”
“But he hasn’t really even given you any clear signs that he’s receptive. You’re too shy with him. What is it with you?”
“Jas, I’m just looking for something real; someone who isn’t solid bullshit.’
“Well, just don’t forget, you have a dad already!”
The girls laughed.
“Carmen, would you alludame limpiar this bar? Got a sold-out house tonight.”
“Si, todo limpio,” smiled Carmen. She’d been cleaning this old motel for ten years. She knew Jerry better than his hand did, and the two of them were like milk and cookies that would never admit how well they got along.
Jerry Caldwell, face scrunched up in the sun and the endless wind off the lava beds and spud fields, lit a smoke and looked out at the circular, gravel courtyard of the Hell’s Half-Acre Lodge and Lounge with its twelve little dark wood cabins arranged like a wagon train camped for the night. The cabins had decorative wagon wheels and old harness yokes scattered about their creaky, wooden porches like the bleached bones of some extinct species of farm whales. The old neon sign, with its leering cowboy-devil leaning out crazily over route 30, was missing a little paint and when it was lit up, which wasn’t all that often, since Jerry wanted to save on his electric bill, it now blinked: He ’s a f acre… ge… ge.
Well, it will be like old times tonight, every room booked out; people coming from all over for this Childhood gig. Shoot, I’m going, too. He tossed his butt into a barrel half full of black lava gravel. He cast a secretly semi- lewd but completely impractical glance at Carmen. As she had for all these years, she pretended not to notice, but felt a slight warm glow in her belly.
“Charles, what’s up? You sound upset. Take a deep breath and tell me.” Greg pinned the cell to his ear. He barely got any reception up in Rigg’s Gulfstream.
” Francis Wallace, the senator? No shit?” Greg listened for a minute to the yammering cell.” He died? Can’t hear you, you’re breaking up too bad. We’ll be in Pocatello in an hour, I’ll call you. Oh, you will be, when? At five-thirty. Ramada. Ok, I’ll find you. Right.”
Tony Riggs, Garbage, and Joey Lowe looked at Greg Horn as the plane bumped through the thermals over the Wasatch Range. Well?”
“Senator Wallace, the chairman of Public Health and Appropriations, the one who ramrodded our bill through congress, had his dick explode rather publicly at his mistress’s house in Sedona. The local TV station got a van out there and I guess it was ugly. He died. Now that will be the top story on all the channels tonight, huge on YouTube, not to mention that it will be fodder for a few nights on the late-nights! I’m just glad we got out when we did.”
Greg could hear Jared O’Rourke now, “I’ve heard of blowing a politician, but blowing one up? Now that’s new!”
Greg said to Joey, “You’re not having any problems with the fuckin’ thing, are you?
“At first I got a little scared that it was all going to work together – the Viagra and the implant. But right now, it’s just some kind of wonderful.”
Tony chipped in, “The old unit caused you enough bullshit already; I don’t know why you had to go and make it even bigger.”
“Boy, this is a hell of a way to end Childhood’s career!” said Joey.
“Well, what’s done is done. Well just do this gig for old time’s sake and get back to our regular bullshit.”
Garbage kept his mouth shut, but he was thinking, you old fuckers are totally insane, all of you.
Greg looked out over the snowy ranges. The last gig. Now, Ace.
Sheila was willing to split any publishing Greg could get out of Ace on Same Old Shirt.
I’ll just do my classic pressure job. Ace, you’re in a bind. Sheila can take you to the cleaners on this shit. But I think there’s a something that might work. If you offer her some of your publishing on that new song, she’s going to kind of be in business with you and she may be a little less likely to try to take everything you’ve ever owned for her and your little girl. I can manage it all for both of you. You’ll still have three-quarters of the song. I can administer it – you know my office is the best there is at getting additional uses. So think about it, but don’t wait too long. She already contacted my office and she was not in a good frame of mind. I think she may have heard about Roberta somehow. Women really hate that; they find a lot of sympathy in court when the husband’s a cheater, too, especially when there are kids involved. So think about it. We could have it wrapped up in a couple of days. We could even advance you some dough on the song if that would help.
That ought to do the job. It always worked before.