ON A MONDAY MORNING, around 10:30, my little Cape Cod-style redbrick in Silver Spring, Maryland went white inside, as if heaven had taken a flash photo of Earth.
A few moments later I felt the Metro Line run under my bed. The train is more than a mile away.
I am Jillian Garth. I had taken the day off because of a sinus headache, and I was in bed with my new lover, William, when the shaking began. It arrived with the roaring winds. It was loud beyond audible. I felt X-Rayed with noise.
After a moment, there was silence, as if silence could strike. Only raindrops disturbed the quiet.
I put on my frowzy red L.L. Beane robe and looked out the bay window to see black rain falling. The dark clouds overhead spawned legs that turned out to be spidery tornados. It was as if oil had spun out of the sky into inky tentacles.
I thought some terror had escaped my dreams.
It all passed in about 30 minutes. Oddly, I found the rumble, and the flash, and the black rain exciting. Something new and unexpected had happened that left me charged up, the way I always feel the morning after an unexpected snowfall.
Then, I discovered that the television wasn’t working. The phones were dead. I had no WiFi. But I still had electricity.
I saw my neighbors assembling on my lawn, which forms the high ground over Dale Drive, the nearest road artery, on the way into Washington from Silver Spring. Everyone was looking up and in the same direction. Carol was there, and Alan, who’d put on a lot of weight in the last year. It was as if they were watching fireworks on the 4th of July, but in slouched silence.
I bunched my robe for warmth and stepped out the front door. It was chilly at first. William was right behind me, having pulled on a pair of slacks. His starchy white shirt hung open. That embarrassed me.
My head was pounding from the sinus infection. Anyway, I had a doctor’s appointment at 11:45. But it wasn’t like I was wasting time going out to chat up the neighbors. I still had time to shower.
I had not thought to check for running water.
The shape of the cloud evoked instant recognition. It reared upward from the direction of the District. It was easily visible over the trees, having already formed into its emblematic shape.
The mushroom cloud gave off a comforting warmth, but smelled faintly of burning hair. The smoke rolled upwards in hues of gray violet. Bolts of lightning shot about its circumference. Beneath the wide, billowing cap auroras appeared — actual auroras this far south — glimmering and shifting through shades of green curtains. My excitement passed, and now I felt blunted.
I couldn’t keep my three-year-old daughter, Olive, in the house. She rushed outside in tears, instantly followed by Linda, our nanny. Linda instinctively knew that this was the end of the world. Guyanese, her accent was a heavily spiced West Indian trill. “Jillian, Jillian, oooooh myyy,” she keened over and over again.
The neighbors on the lawn, except for the children, understood that this was a nuclear explosion. The attack we all had feared. Few of us realized that it was more than a dirty bomb. This was an actual bomb, a real bomb. William knew what it was. As a lobbyist working for Lockheed Martin, the giant defense contractor, he knew about weapons.
Not one of us, however, doubted that this was a terrorist act.
The stay-at-home spouses were desperate to reach their working spouses who had jobs in the District. Surely, they would be late for dinner. Cell phones still worked, and they were checked constantly for texts and to see if connections to the capital had been restored. It was possible to call anywhere in the world, but you couldn’t reach anyone in the District.
The word on Twitter, if it could be summed up, was that “This was it.” The Big One. The one we all quietly feared. We learned within hours from a logjam of rumors and pictures on the Web that the government had been decapitated. The president and his family were probably dead. Hundreds of Congressmen and women were said to be incinerated. There was no word of survivors. That included the Supreme Court.
The Joint Chiefs of Staff, the five highest-ranking members of the five military services took the reins of government. Martial law was declared what seemed like instantly; although my sense of time warped from shock.
Someone, I think overweight Alan had a battery- powered shortwave radio that was tuned to the Emergency Broadcast Network. He brought us to our senses. The authorities were saying that we were not to be out of doors. We were not to drive. We were to stay under shelter and await further instructions.
Back in the house, William and I watched CNN on our separate smartphones. The network had lost contact with its Washington Bureau, but it was trying to restore it. CNN speculated that the bureau had been cut off by the bomb’s electro-magnet pulse. But they added the possibility that the bureau was “gone.” That was the word, “gone,” as if it had caught the Metro Line home. They sounded worried and fearful.
Jim Bittermann, reporting from Paris, said the French media were calling the blast a “Black Swan Event,” a moment that changes the course of history.
The images on YouTube were unearthly. One showed a dark gray hurricane sweeping over the taller buildings along Wisconsin Avenue. William thought it was actually the tornadoes, part of the weather set off by the bomb. There were several short films showing a large gray wave rolling toward the camera. I thought of sandstorms in the Sahara. There was even a sharp, steady video shot at the moment of detonation. The camera seemed locked down. William thought the perpetrators shot it. There were videos of bedraggled people marching in lines, a mass migration up 16th Street, away from the District, heading toward Silver Spring where I live. What would we do with these refugees? The images reminded me of World War II survivors fleeing Paris.
Silver Spring is near to the heart of the District, and William and I stayed out-of-doors too long that day. The exposure slowly cost William his hair, and then induced some serious blood-flux sickness. His glands began to swell after a day or two, and we found clots of his hair covering his pillow each morning. His illness just grew worse.
Somehow, I had been spared. My hair grew faster and thicker, more lustrous, and a richer more shining shade of amber. It embarrassed me. My figure changed as well; I became more ample, more bosomy.
Today, months later, in the first spring after the Detonation, my daughter is frequently listless and too exhausted to play. She requires regular blood transfusions.
William is gone. Sligo Creek Park near our home faces a golf course, which has been turned into a graveyard. Gravesites were marked by crude crosses and keep sakes, personal effects. William’s shoes showed his resting place, a pair of black leather cap- toe lace-ups, part of the K Street uniform. They were quickly stolen, and I replaced them with a wooden cross.
None of the spouses who had gone to the city to work that day came home late for dinner. Now I live in a grim neighborhood of widows and widowers. The winds run us and drive our lives. We go indoors or go outdoors on the whim of the weathervane. There seems to be no way to clean up the radioactive dust that blows from the sky.
Simply, there’s never been a nuclear ground blast in a major urban center. The attacks on Hiroshima and Nagasaki that ended World War II were both airbursts and shed far less fallout. Radioactive debris quickly reached as far as Philadelphia and New York, and south to Virginia and North Carolina.
No one has ever contemplated the effects of radiation spreading so widely over a region. The fallout is so much a part of our day-to-day lives that there is the temptation to deny its dangers, to say everything is okay. We go about our business as we would on any other day. Radical levels of radiation are the new normal.
And there are problems no one dreamed of. Local thrift stores, for instance, have been looted because people need clothes. Once you’ve been out of doors for a time, it’s risky to bring shirts and bottoms indoors. They are simply tossed out the door, where they blow around. It’s a ghostly sight. Shoes are kept in the garage, if you’re lucky enough to have a garage. Indoors, we walk around in our underwear and only wash our bodies -- under arms, crotch, ass. We fear contaminating the ground water. Many continue to drink water from the tap, despite warnings of radiation poisoning. What are you going to do?
Apple Computer sells an app that employs the phone’s microphone and earpiece to measure radiation. It’s called The GuyGer app and it costs $50 a pop. Apple gives half the profits to the recovery. Other apps calculate accumulated radiation, and there’s one that predicts hot spots. Apps are selling. Radiation is the new weather.
My daughter was desperate for blood in the first six weeks after the attack. She had three transfusions, which required seven units of Type O-negative blood per transfusion. Type O-negative is the universal donor. It costs nearly $500 a unit and is paid electronically. It’s eaten up my life savings, and the money in my 401K has been frozen. Cash is useless. Everything is paid for in bitcoins, a digital currency that was conceived in 2008.
It was my former job that saved me and my daughter. I was a top editor at the American Association for the Advancement of Science, marking- up policy papers for publication. Many of the friends I made there were major figures in the scientific community. They helped me get blood for transfusions and taught me about radiation and its side effects.
Friends at NIH in Bethesda tutored me by phone. They’ve kept my daughter alive.
According to blogs and the Urban Dictionary, Facebook, Tumblr, those of us who deal in blood are “vampires,” and I am one. I use blood; therefore, I’m a vampire. As well, I qualify as a zombie, according to these “Language Shits,” as I think of them. I’m considered a zombie because I live inside the Beltway, and high levels of radiation have bombarded me. It’s not unusual to be both a zombie and a vampire. It’s more the norm in the neighborhood. I am both a blood seller and a blood user, not for myself, but for my three-year-old.
There wouldn’t be any vampires if the bloodsucking insurance companies hadn’t claimed bankruptcy after the Detonation. They paid out some billions, or so they claimed, before they slunk away. The companies flipped the health services problem over to the states, and the states went broke. So, there is no healthcare. There are only vampires, zombies, and Sligo Creek Golf Course.
I’ve become a kick-ass trader. Blood is an increasingly high-priced commodity. It’s traded on Chicago Mercantile Exchange, like pork bellies. Some days the value of O-positive is up, some days the value of A-negative soars. I make some money buying futures. My real cash comes off the differences in local pricing. It’s arbitrage. I created a network that tracks sellers. I’ve got friends in labs. They get a piece of what I get. I hustle.
Buying good blood is like buying heroine, only more dangerous, because it’s normal people you’re dealing with: normal dying people who donate. You have to trust what you’re getting, that it’s not too radioactive (mostly strontium-90). When it comes to trust I rule. The blood I bless is considered a gold standard.
Blood made me famous. It literally made me into a celebrity. My reputation as a vampire spread, and not just among zombies, but among vampires, which is where it counted. An interview I did with a vampire about how to tell when a zombie is past help went viral on YouTube. It brought people to tears. It set off protests. I became the heroine at the barricades. Videographers and network producers began venturing inside the Beltway (the “Rad Belt,” as it is known on the Web) to interview me. Someone characterized me as “Jillian, the vampire queen,” and it stuck. I was a television celebrity for about one month when a single phone message changed everything and put me in the spotlight.
TAPING SHOWS for the Holy Neighborhood Network took place in New Mexico, just outside old Santa Fe. Housed in a sound stage the size of an airplane hangar, HNN’s studio’s 30-foot ceilings were crisscrossed with lighting grids that looked like elevated train tracks. Spotlights hung everywhere. Most of them were turned off. Writing desks and Apple Computers created a little city room in the center of the space. Much of the rest of the room was in semi darkness, but for one bright spot, one very bright spot, which was center stage for video evangelist Rob Patterson, the man who had gained the title of “America’s Pastor” after the Detonation.
Reverend Rob, or just Bob, as I call him, had devoted his video ministry, his life, and his fortunes to saving the “District Holy Land,” as he referred to Washington. He and I met after my fourth YouTube video went viral, with two million hits in the first 31 hours after it posted. I was an international figure, and he offered me a contract. Since then, I have become the personification of the nation’s tragedy, a living Statue of Liberty offering national solace and salvation. I come to HNN with street creds -- a former vampire and zombie, a single mother with an ailing three-year-old daughter. And it was Reverend Rob Patterson who had worked his miracle on me. He baptized and cleansed my soul on national TV. Over 400-million viewers watched worldwide. The ceremony became the first billion-hit YouTube video. I was reborn, “Sister Jillian,” the weeping angel.
Angels are a post-Detonation phenomenon. Described by those who have seen them or have had contact with them as “ragged folks,” they provide aid and then vanish, asking for nothing in return. They have become a religious mystery throughout a world rocked by the Detonation. Angels inspire awe. They have been seen and filmed, but they always deny their nature.
Among these heavenly visitors were the “weeping angels,” known for the tears of empathy they shed as they selflessly absorbed the miseries of the wounded and suffering. The public reveres weeping Angels. And I became their apotheosis through Bob’s grace. I should say his tutelage. I was the rarest butterfly. On- air, at the proper moments, I would keep my eyes open until tears streaked down my cheeks. Smeared mascara thrilled viewers.
The stage costume HNN had designed for me said something more. I was dressed to appear as the audience wanted to imagine a weeping angel to appear. That meant wearing a common retro house dress, except my shift had both shoulders and sleeves theatrically torn back so that they looked like wings, and revealed my tanned shoulders. The costume’s ragged skirt had revealing holes well up my thigh. So while I looked angelic with my piles of red hair, I also had sex appeal. People magazine described me as “Mary Magdalene of the seraphim.”
Why audiences love bullshit stories about “weeping angels,” I can only guess. But it paid off. My get-up had become a fashion. The shift dress was altered with a slit up the side and featured in Vogue. Revlon had brought out a new hair color named after me, “Just Jillian.” An eye shadow was about to launch. Everything I touched was licensed, bringing in big bucks. Though I would never say it on TV or let on to Bob about it, I was not a believer. All those things that I continued to go through with my Olive have left me no illusions about a personal god. And if there’s no personal God, what’s the use?
After taping that day’s morning show, Bob and I sat quietly and talked. A 90-minute documentary about the Detonation was running over the live feed. That would be followed by the “Food for God’s Feast” cooking show after noon. And so on went the day. Our show repeated during Prime Time. We were done for now.
“What sparks you Jillian darling is that angelic face of yours.” The Reverend had placed his fingertips on my knee. To my right, technicians were busy with their keypads and controls, awkwardly conscious of the two of us.
The stage was cooled because of the hot electrical equipment. There was a faint smell of ozone in the air, as if a thunderstorm had just blown through. I didn’t mind the Reverend’s fingertips on my knee. He may have thought he was giving me goosebumps. But it was the chill in the studio. I considered his touch an innocent gesture. He said, “To have seen yourself as a vampire, a woman with your beauty and intelligence, still surprises me Jill.” No one called me Jill except the Reverend.
As his index finger traced lightly on my knee — a not-so-innocent gesture -- the stagehands gave up and retreated with their wires and tools into the darkness.
Reverend Rob, as audiences knew him before he became America’s Pastor, had a face like a pie, golden and crusty from too much sun. His little eyes were like slits revealing bulging wet blueberries. He looked older than his 35 years, and his make-up was designed to make him appear sage-like. I knew he was just a couple of years older than me.
He asked, “Don’t you think it a miracle Jill that you thrived from doses of radiation that destroyed other people?” We had gone over this territory on-air and off. He seemed endlessly fascinated. I suppose he was hoping to find a new angle on my survival.
He bantered on. “I’ve been reading comments made by Glenn Beck comparing Washington to Hiroshima,” he said, “and Glenn says that no case like yours turned up in either city. You’re unique. My faith says you may be a saint. I’m so proud you didn’t submit to testing by Big Pharma.”
“I don’t pretend to understand what happened, Bob. But I’m no saint; I promise you.”
He sat back in his seat, putting some distance between us. When we spoke, I rarely called him Reverend. I treated him as I would treat a supervising editor, with familiarity and respect.
“Bob, I fear one day I’ll wake up, look in the mirror, and see I’ve aged a hundred years overnight.”
“Why would you think that sweetheart?” He leaned forward again and tapped my knee for emphasis. “The Lord looks after those who look after the Lord.”
“Bob, there’s just no real science about any of this, about me, or poor William, or my little girl.”
“There’s the Lord’s science. That’s what matters. And you’re one of his most wonderful miracles. In a time of sorrow, you’ve become an angel who flew up whole and beautiful from the bottomless pit.”
He got to his feet and unconsciously checked the zipper of his slacks. I stood and we hugged. Neither of us made any efforts to close off the tabloid talk of a growing romance between us.
He and I lunched together that afternoon at the Plaza Cafe on the square in Santa Fe. I loved the restaurant’s high tin ceiling and its deco chandeliers. The fragrance of peppers and burgers amped my appetite. I ordered a dish of cashew mole enchiladas, and the Reverend sipped a coffee and ordered a green chili meatloaf. A large meal like that was rare for him. He would go without lunch, for “spiritual purposes.” The actual reason was the amount of alcohol he consumed in the evening. He struggled to keep his weight down.
A waitress approached our red upholstered booth and pointed toward the front window. She spoke with the rhythmic cadence of New Mexico’s Pueblo Indians. “The lady there.” She pointed. I didn’t see her at first. “She asked if you could come. Just for a minute, she said. She says she knows you. What would you like me to tell her? You’re in a business meeting?” Fans want to speak with me or approach me for autographs. When I was out and about town with Bob, it was open season on the both of us. I looked on the attention as part of my popularity, or maybe the happy affliction of celebrity.
The woman at the counter waved at me. Her fire- engine red hair was gelled and combed straight back.
I recognized her instantly.
I had issues with Ellen Dreyfuss, but I decided to be patient and give her all the rope she needed. She smiled at me as I walked toward her. I knew she was a northern girl, but she spoke to me with a chatty southern drawl. “Hi, Miss Jillian. So good to see you looking so well. I’m just so excited.”
She stood and we shook hands. She held mine a little too long for comfort. Then she hugged me, pressed me to her. Dressed in gray spandex capris, and a racer-back coral tank top, she loomed over me in her fetish-height six-inch heels. She didn’t mind attracting stares.
“Love the shoes,” I said, dryly.
“Louboutin. Thank goodness for talented designers in times like these, don’t you think?” Instead of simply looking down at her shoes, as I commented, she looked over her shoulder and arched her back, the better to display her perfect bum.
Disco-red hair, green eyes, and bee-stung lips, that’s how I’d describe her. Unlike most women who worked on Capitol Hill, she was a fashionista and got away with it. She came from a wealthy Jewish family with homes in Atlanta, New York, Hawaii, and Speyside in Scotland, where her mother owned a distillery. She had a reputation for being disarming, brainy, and tough.
As we sat down, she opened a tan mailing envelope and took out an 8x10 color publicity shot of me with my hair down, sitting by the water, looking sultry. I recognized the setting. It was near San Diego. The outfit was mine, but I didn’t remember posing.
“Please, hon,” she cooed, “would you sign this for me?”
“What brings you to Santa Fe, Ellen?”
“Just passing through. You know.” She nudged the photo closer.
“Where on Earth did you get that picture? I’ve never seen it.” I was astonished.
“Oh, it’s everywhere back East. Probably paparazzi. You know how publicity folks are. It’s a really sensuous shot.”
Her answer surprised me. On the other hand, as each day passed, I learned some new lesson about stardom.
She handed me a silver Tiffany roller ball. “Should I address it to anyone in particular?” I asked.
“Not really. I’m your biggest fan.”
“‘To Ellen Dreyfuss,’ then.”
“Please don’t. I might want to give it to Jackson.” So that’s what this was about. I suspected that she was the other woman in Jack’s life, though everyone told me she was gay.
I had been seeing Jackson Guild regularly until the Detonation. But I have not heard from him since; that’s more than six months. He disappeared. Ellen knew him through her work on the Hill. They were press aides, flaks, she in the House, and he in the Senate. Together they were regulars in the “Friday Night Club,” a group of pub-crawling political animals, all in high places. Each was an expert in one area or another. All of them were overheated about the Manny Granov financial scandal. Jackson most of all. He was obsessed.
Jack had written a paper about Granov—whom he referred to as a Wall Street War Lord—for the Senate Foreign Relations Committee. It proved the swindler wasn’t just any Wall Street baron; that, in reality, he was CIA asset. He was referred to as a “power tool.”
According to Jackson, the billionaire, Granov, meddled in foreign policy, underwriting rogues and mercenaries. CIA paid close attention to him but did nothing. He was useful. Jackson told me Granov loan sharked money for the Russian mob and laundered their cash.
The FBI described Granov’s financial crimes as a vast Ponzi scheme, a money game where he would rob Peter to pay Paul. Jack was wily; he didn’t buy the explanation. Neither did Ellen or the other members of the Friday Night Club.
Jackson liked to say that a “Ponzi” would steal ten million here and there for his whore, his drug habit, his alimony, and a numbered account in the Caymans. Granov pushed around $65 billion, an amount far greater than the national budget of Pakistan. Pakistan was a nation of 170 million that budgeted $40 billion annually. In other words, Granov had access to more money than a nuclear power.
Jackson’s claim to fame, if you can call it that, was his discovery of a dangerous CIA-Granov cover-up. He latched on to a paper trail dating back to 1991 when Granov bought up a load of nuclear weapons as the Soviet Union fell. CIA got most of the bombs, but one fell off the truck. That was the one Jackson had been tracking. For almost 20 years, no one knew what happened to the “fifth bomb,” as Jackson referred to it. When it finally surfaced a few months ago, it decapitated the Federal government.
“Where’s Jackson now, Ellen?” I asked, handing back the pen.
She flipped the photo over and pointed to a spot on the back. “Let’s have your autograph here too, add a date to make it all real and valuable.”
What an odd request; I was suspicious of her and knew she was conniving. I glowered; she beamed back. “What are you up to?” I demanded, although I think I sounded more teasing than wary.
“Jackson asked for your autograph.”
I didn’t think about the second signature. I just scribbled it across the back. “He could have asked me himself.”
“I bet you would have liked that.”
“Yes. Very much.”
Ellen was smiling like she was sitting next to Scarlett Johansson. “Jackson’s off playing the Lone Ranger. Do you believe it?”
“I’m sure. Is that why he disappeared?”
As far as I could recall I’d only met Ellen Dreyfuss one other time, and this was the second time she pissed me off.
“Is he here with you in Santa Fe?” My tone was snarky.
She turned perky and sipped her coffee, as if she were taunting me. “No,” she said, “but I could hook you up with him if that’s what you want.” Her smile was dazzling. “Hear me out first.” She half turned and gave a cute finger wave to the Reverend, who smiled at her.
Ellen said, “Make like you’re enjoying our little talk. I don’t want America’s Pastor to know I’m about to get a little more serious and all.”
I looked around at the Reverend, smiled and signaled that I’d only be another moment. I tilted my head toward Ellen as if it were just us girls. “What the fuck are you doing Ellen? I’m all ears and smiles.”
She sipped her orange juice and motioned for the waitress. “Can I get some of that nice thick bacon you make?”
She got flirty with me. She placed her hand on mine...tenderly. “Jackson asked me to give you two pieces of information. He said you would understand. But if you don’t, I’ll explain.”
“Go on.” She still had her hand on mine, but withdrew it slowly as she spoke.
“First, your Jackson knows about your boyfriend Type-A, and he’s prepared to have a little discussion about it with America’s Pastor.”
My scalp began to itch. I checked to see if she were recording the conversation, wearing a wire. No. Her clothes were too tight.
Type-A was the street name used by Ronnie Riedel. He was a powerful dealer with whom I had a big-time affair and a big-time breakup. He and I did a lot of insider trading together. Ron was the man. He ran the blood market in the Washington suburbs. I used him for arbitrage until he bought blood from a supplier in Potomac named Ollah, a mail-order Russian bride. She knew that the whole-blood Ronnie purchased was for my child.
The product Ronnie bought from Ollah turned out to be Type O-positive but was labeled by Ollah as Type O-negative. A pro doesn’t make mistakes like that. I saw that Olive was rejecting the transfusion. She developed a rash, and had difficulty breathing. She was too tired to move.
My daughter is a universal donor, but the irony of course is that the universal donor can only be transfused with their own blood type: Type-O negative. Ronnie denied what had happened, then played it down, told me I was overreacting. He refused to help, accusing me of being “bitchy.” He was lucky I found the Anti-D immunoglobulin Olive needed because she’s all I live for.
Ron defended Ollah. “This shit is complicated,” he said. “Someone else mislabeled it.” Those were his words. “Bad reactions don’t happen to every O-negative person,” he said. “It’s just antibodies. The whole-blood was good.” I can still hear his voice.
I reached for the saltshaker on the lunch counter and shook a little in my hand, grinding the crystals into my palm. Soon after Olive recovered, I was told Ollah wanted Ronnie for herself. Mismatching blood types was her way to drive us apart. She didn’t think about the consequences of her crime.
It’s vital for outsiders to understand the world we live in now, after the Detonation. Blood is life and death. There is no forgiving. No mistakes. Not with blood.
I know lots of people who owe me and hate Ronnie. People in the blood business are like wolves, pack animals protecting their kind. When Olive got sick, the story about Type-A’s “mistake” got around. Ollah’s play drew retribution, and Ronnie lost big. He hurt the wrong people for the wrong reason. It took about a month, but he vanished. Forever. No more Ollah either. After the Detonation, the only law is payback.
Ellen said, “You know they found his body?”
That stunned me, but I gave no sign. I shrugged. “There’s no statute of limitations on murder.”
Was it money she was after? She was playing me.
“Cut to the chase Ellen.”
“We will see you indicted and tried for murder as an accomplice to the death of Ron Reidel.”
She said nothing in response but gave me a wan, got-you-by-the-short-hairs smile. Now the back of my hand itched. “What makes you think you know what you’re talking about?” I snapped. “It’s known Ronnie ODd. So, you’re pushing a lie.” I had had enough. I leaned over and whispered, “It’s been fun.”
I felt like I was getting a rash, and the smell of salsa verde caught in my throat, and I coughed. If anyone linked me to the murder of a vampire, all bets were off. No more endorsements. No more celebrity. No licensing. Logically, it didn’t matter that Ellen Dreyfuss was telling me Type-A was murdered and that I was involved. There was no reason to believe Reverend Rob knew anything. All I had to do was stay cool and boost advertising for HNN.
Ellen reached out and touched my arm. “One more thing.” She gave me her honey-suckle smile and the southern drawl. “Your little problem with Type-A works like this. Your friend over there, America’s Pastor, is a creature of Cole Edder, Cole A.K. Edder the third, who goes by the nickname, “Cake.”
“Only his friends refer to him as “Cake.”
“So, you’ve met the real god. Good. He’s a fascist, and I bet you’re not.” This had to be a bribe, I thought, but I let out more rope for her to hang herself.
“Cake owns TimesWarden,” she said. “Do you understand? TimesWarden owns HNN, which means cake owns the Reverend over there. How do you think every boring book that man writes gets sent up the flagpole to the best seller lists? It’s Cake. He buys the Pastor’s books in bulk. And how do you think you showed up on the cover of TIME?”
That stung, but she was right. “Is this blackmail, Ellen? It’s not necessary, you know.”
“Maybe it’s a reality check, Jillian.” She continued to look at me brightly, as if she were about to announce she was preggie. I nodded. I didn’t like the politics mingling with the Bible at HNN, and I didn’t like the parties Edder threw, his “special” gatherings. But there was more to him than his smile. He was overwhelming figure, tall and slim, perfect features, and that little touch of gray that crept past his sideburns. I had heard him off stage, soto voce. He was a political monster, and he was powerful.
“You’re going to be an international figure,” Ellen continued. “You’re a star already.” She lowered her voice. “So, I’m here to tell you that Jackson is insisting on your cooperation.”
Jackson Guild had warned me to get out of Washington the night before the Detonation. I wish I had. He happened to be with Ellen at the time, and they were just around the corner from my home because they were headed for the Beltway. They offered to pick me and Olive up and move us north. Jackson told me the bomb was going to blow, but I was in bed with William when he called, which was a little awkward.
Jackson is a smart, lusty man, a born winner who spun his wheels on whisky. And he had secrets. He was a Washington player who knew more than he should. Type-A’s murder, for instance. That was a total secret, or so I thought.
I confronted Ellen. “So, you’re his bitch?”
She laughed and bit into a slice of bacon, sipped her juice and said, “You’re a beautiful woman Jillian.” She made a point licking her lips. “And I only fuck beautiful women.” She looked directly into my eyes. I did my best not to react. She didn’t miss a beat. “Jackson’s one of my best friends, and he happens to be a hero. He’s not my lover.” She was still staring into my eyes. I blinked and glanced at a salt dispenser. Then she got my attention. “And don’t think I’m hitting on you.” She paused. “Unless you’re not too busy this evening.”
Dreyfuss turned her head and cleared her throat. Our eyes met and locked. She smiled. She was stunning. The green eyes and short Goth-red hair. She looked electric. I wondered if her tits were real or off the shelf. The tank top was way tight.
“They’re real,” she said. I had been staring. All I could do was smile. “This is all about Cake and his fascist politics, Jillian. He doesn’t care about Democracy. Someone has to stop him.” She had pushed her plate aside and was leaning on her elbow. “I can’t say too much more, except that you’re in it and don’t know it. You’re getting tan, courting evil.” Her voice was low but clear, maybe a touch sad. “Jackson wants you to wiggle me right into your circle -- the Reverend, Cake, their wives. Bring me in. We’ll go from there. No one will ever hear about Type A again.”
“So, I’m your pimp?”
“This is big Jillian. It’s not about us.”
“And if I refuse?”
“You’ve already agreed.” She tapped her finger on the photo. “I own you. You signed on the dotted line, right there on the back of the 8 x 10. It was a confession. You admitted to the murder of Ronnie Reidel.”
“Don’t fight it. This is gonna be easy. I’m a terrific friend. It’ll be as natural as coffee in the morning. And no one will blame you if someone blows my secret.”
“There was nothing on the back of that photo.” “Maybe you just didn’t see it.”
“Oh, my. Invisible ink. Aren’t you the spy girl. Do you actually believe that shit will stand in court?”
She didn’t react, but told me to laugh. She mewed, “You’re gonna do the right thing. It’s in you.”
I laughed, a half sincere cackle, like I’d just been told an off-color joke. Ellen laughed too. I looked over my shoulder at Bob and saw him smiling. I smiled sweetly and turned back to Ellen who said, “He’s going to want us to join him in the booth. Let’s do it.” Ellen reached into her purse and took out a crisp $50 bill, placing it under her plate on the counter. She gave the Reverend a little wave then said to me, “You’ll think of something to tell him.”
“I understand what you’re saying,” I told her. I’ve seen it. I’m no angel, but there’s my kid to consider.”
“You won’t be the bad guy, if it comes to that. That’s my job.”
I hadn’t noticed it until now. It was something in the set of her jaw. Dreyfuss was not a sexy sundress of a human being. She was deep and substantial. A strong woman and very brave.
But now, she had a look of shock on her face. “Don’t you cry now,” she said, looking at me, astonished. “This is a moment to remember, a chance to live for something bigger...This is still America” She stopped and smacked her lips. “You get it, dontcha?”
I nodded and fought back the tears. Not sad tears. Tears of relief.
“Pull your socks up honey,” she said. “When you walk back to that booth, just remember I’m your long-lost friend.”
“‘America’s Pastor’ is a Fascist at heart, Jillian. You’re not. Cole Edder will control the next elected government. He may just run for President. We need you to do the right thing. Let me into your circle. There’s not a lot of time.”
“I get it.” I felt more calm. “I will,” I assured her.
Dreyfuss suddenly stopped talking, flashed a huge smile, and started toward our booth where Bob was waiting. She took long strides with those long, strong legs. Her heels hammered into the tiles. I followed after her. I could hear her flouncy drawl, “Oh Pastor Patterson, we all love your show just so much it makes the flowers sing in our window box. You’re the one man who keeps hope alive. May I give you a little peck on the cheek?”
He tried to stand up but he didn’t have the legroom in the booth. He barely kept his balance, and she missed her target, kissing him on the ear. She just kept going, her enthusiasm real. She took out her silver Tiffany roller ball. “Can I trouble you to please just give me your autograph?” She pointed to a tattoo of a pouty kiss on her right shoulder. Sitting to her left, I hadn’t seen it. “Just right here will do. Take my arm.” She was so outrageous I wanted to applaud. She leaned over, and Bob did as she asked, taking her upper arm in his left hand and signing his name. Then I saw her do it. She squeezed his hand against her boobs and the pen skidded across her shoulder.
“Oh, that’s all right,” she said and gave Bob an air kiss. He looked like he’d just gotten a blowjob. Ellen waved at someone in the back of the restaurant. Bob and I turned to see who was there, and saw no one.
Ellen said to Bob, “I do hope I get to see you again before this autograph wears away. I’ve got a little place here in town. So, I’ll be around. Do you know Frontier Gate Road? I got a little place up there on the hill.”
She never hinted she was living here. And there were no small homes in Frontier Gate. It was all estates, none less than two million dollars.
Bob was delighted. “I sure do. In fact, we’re neighbors.” He smiled at her and then at me, his blueberry eyes disappearing into his piecrust face. “I’m just over here on Spanish Hill, right close to Ten Thousand Waves, up 475 from you.”
“Oh, wonderful,” I said. “That’s just so cool that you’re around the corner. Now I have a girlfriend to spa-out with at the Waves!
She looked at me as if I were insane, or maybe she thought I was about to blow her cover.
“Jillian is a true angel,” Ellen said. She still seemed surprised at my reaction. If she were skeptical, I didn’t see it. “You’re an inspiring girl,” she said and looked at me warmly. “I want to thank you.” She dangled the envelope with my publicity shot. “I have a cousin coming to visit who’s going to love this.” She tapped her heels with delight. “I could use a wallow at the spa right now. How’s your Friday work?”
I looked to Bob, but not for his approval. I had a girlfriend. “That would be great,” I said.
“Are you working here?” Bob asked her. He didn’t get the vibe, the meld.
“I had a home on Capitol Hill.” Ellen lowered her large green eyes. “So now I’m out here.”
“I’m so sorry,” Bob said. That was one thing about that man. He was compassionate and completely sincere in his faith.
“My life is gone.” Now her eyes welled. Then mine. “Look at us,” she said. “We’re too old for this. We’re just two silly girls. We’ve got to be brave.”
She offered Bob her hand, held it out for him to caress and kiss. “I’m so glad we met,” she said. She nodded, and then turned to me. “So, Friday will be good for you, Jillian dear; we’ll go to the spa and have a real talk?”
“Friday is Friday,” I said. “Thank god for Friday.” Bob took that as his cue, the fool. “Praise the Lord,” he said, and we all laughed like old friends.
Thank you for reading A Blood Conspiracy. If you enjoyed it, please mention it to friends, and, if you find a moment, write a few words about it in a review on Amazon. I would be delighted to hear from you. I’ve spent years with the facts that create the fiction I write, and engaging with my readers brings my efforts to life. I just might learn a thing or two, or make myself more useful. Click here to find me.
JEFF SHEAR is the author of The Keys to the Kingdom, which was an investigation into a weapons deal between the US and Japan (the FSX), published by Doubleday in 1994. He’s been a Fellow at The Center for Public Integrity, in Washington, where he contributed to the book The Buying of the Congress, published by Avon in 1998. Before that he served as staff correspondent for National Journal, covering fiscal policy, with regular venues at the White House and Congress. His magazine writing has appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Esquire, The Los Angeles Times Magazine, Rolling Stone, and other national publications. He has written TV narrations for the National Geographic Channel, Discovery, and The History Channel.
Copyright © 2021 by Jeff Shear
All rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced, distributed or transmitted in any form or by any means, without prior written permission from the author. Write to: firstname.lastname@example.org
This is a work of fiction. The characters are invented. While a significant amount of factual detail informs my story, it is general knowledge, widely published and regularly portrayed in the arts and media in fictionalized form, as is the case here. Any resemblance to real events or locales or persons, living or dead, is entirely accidental. With the exception of public figures, any resemblance to persons living or dead is also coincidental. The narrator’s story should not be confused with the author’s views.