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Monday, September 28, 2020

Digging Around the Pandemic: The SwiftPad Extinction - Chapter 6

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home in Victoria Village, downtown Memphis, and Chubby was hanging around the chips and guacamole bowl. It was muggy, but the windows were open, the sun had been down for a couple of hours, and it was comfortable. He was talking with a pretty Black woman with freckles under her eyes, eyes which fired out a complex mix of messages that made Chubby realize they were about to hatch a conspiracy together. Her short, tight hair, her narrow yellow jeans, and her deep V-neck coral-colored floral blouse all accentuated her necklace of brown amber stones that were strung to be progressively larger as they plunged down her neckline. She was drinking white wine.

You are a friend of Aldane, huh?”

Yeah, uh…” As usual, Chubby stuttered and swallowed his words when talking to a beautiful woman.

I know who you are – Kip, right? I am Tiara. You must have met the Colonel in Portland, right?”

Um – yeah. I did.” She was beautiful and getting more so by the second. “I guess you could say I worked – we worked together. The Colonel came to my apartment and he and Harvey Grennell worked out the strategy – for the battle.”

Really? You listened?”

Well – yeah…” Kip didn’t feel like talking about how he led several thousand people out to block the Banfield the night of the Portland Insurgency. “But actually, they just told me what to do.”

Oh my, well, I am going to want to hear all about that! But what do you think about Dash biting the big one?”

I wouldn’t want to have to carry the casket,” said Kip.

Dashell Addison Sketerson was the second highest paid and rated AM jock in the country, the godfather of the rightwing tilt in talk radio. When the FCC eliminated “The Fairness Doctrine” in the late ’80s, the hounds from fascist hell were released onto American radio airwaves, and Sketerson was the lead dog. Suddenly the Book of Revelation joined forces with the jabbering of demented, race-baiting Klansmen, with screeding spreaders of lies, vituperative fulminators of hate, and paranoid preachers of malicious propaganda. Led by Dash Sketerson, they delivered “the facts” of crazed liberal conspiracies being hatched by swarthy city-dwelling fiends right into your car radio. Dash was not quite the vilest of the lot, but to some he was the most entertaining. As he got famous, he became “a thing,” just by showing up at rallies and TV talk shows, and conventions. He started rubbing elbows with the new wave of unscrupulous pols, such as Real-Prez, and other similar scum, who themselves were trying to ride the rightwing radio wave the jocks had conjured up. To most of the folks outside RedHat country, he was no longer funny or taken seriously as a political maven. He had led his Dashoholics down too many easily disproved rat holes that even he now had disclaimed. His “fan base,” the Dashoholics, totally bit into his daily shit sandwich rants, and were able to quickly forget what he told them if he changed his slant 180 degrees the next day. Analysis of his career showed that once he became famous he became a complete toady, and sycophant, who waited for the signals from the pols he helped elect. He basically created Real-Prez, but now he had to kiss his ass.

Dash, like Real-Prez and so many others of that ilk, was a weakling who always sought Daddy’s approval. His family had local prominence around southern Missouri. But Dash was a loser by most of his family measures. He dropped out of college and was a slob and a failure who lived on welfare through his 20s and early 30s while moving from radio station to radio station. Then the Fairness Doctrine went away and he discovered that hate sells. Now he had an $80 million-a-year gig, plus innumerable side benefits. Dash wasn’t stupid; he knew he was an entertainer, a circus monkey. His voice was everywhere. You could hear him yelling on loudspeakers into factory floors, dentist’s offices, farmhouses, bars and lounges, dinners, and religious gatherings across middle and southern America. His voice was inescapable.

Much of the current situation, the Red-Blue shit, could be laid at his feet.

Fuck, him, glad he’s dead,” said Kip. “How did he die?”

He was pretty obese, and was in and out of the hospital for diabetes, and heart blockages. So, it was coming. Way over 300 pounds. One unattributed story is that he died on top of his skinny, young third wife. Can you imagine having to crawl out from under that hulking blob while he is leaking bodily fluids out of every orifice? I guess some think that is the manly way to go out. One of his admirers called it ‘a curtain call at Rockefeller Center.’”

Oh – right, Ford’s VP went out that way too. So Dash pulled a Full Nelson,” said Kip, waiting in vain for a laugh. “They will make a big deal of his funeral,” Kip continued. “The so-called Real-Prez will probably speak.”

So-called! Who can speak his name without gagging? Fuck, it isn’t anything to cheer about though. We have to be on guard. Some of their people will probably be looking for revenge.”

We didn’t kill him,” said Kip.

No, but that doesn’t matter. The fat fuck killed himself with junk food just to prove he wasn’t liberal. He really is the prototype of Real-Prez.”

Not a decent bone in his carcass.”

Yeah,” said Tiara. “But he was funny in a hateful way sometimes I suppose. If you see him as a dumb fool when he does his bits, they make a kind of satiric sense. But always, he has to hurt somebody, always in a cruel way.”

To junk food!” Kip held up his glass. “The great equalizer!”

And third wives!” Tiara held her glass up too and they drank.

So, aside from that, what do you think?”

Kip thought – he stopped himself. Can’t do it, he thought. Can’t stop looking at her either. “You mean what do I think about Hassan Coleman?”


He is the full deal, no doubt,” said Kip. “I think if we can get past all this stuff now, he could be President.”

Oh, I don’t know. I wouldn’t go that far! Not yet anyway. He doesn’t take himself very seriously. And with his reputation, as it is now, no. That is kind of a drawback in politics. In a small city like Memphis, you can practically meet everybody, or at least be seen. Anyway – who knows if we are going to get past this stuff, as you say.” She took a long sip of wine, keeping her eyes on him the whole way. “I want to thank you for the money by the way. It came in handy. We needed to up our game. Know what we bought?”

Uh, bourbon?”

She laughed. “No, we didn’t really need that. Supplies are stocked! No, we used it to get some secure communications gear. Upgraded our whole system. Now we can put people in the field and keep in touch while keeping an eye on these bastards.”

Memphis helped save my city, so glad to help.”

Um huh! Well, five million is a nice thank-you! What do you think about the international situation?”

It was short of five – more like four point eight. What do you mean, international situation?”

Think the Russians are helping Real-Prez like they did the first time?”

You mean are they exploiting SwiftPad, like they kind of did during the last election? I don’t think so. I mean it is possible, but we, I mean SwiftPad, have thousands of people, all over the world, stomping out propaganda fires every day – all the time – I don’t think it is a big problem.”

What about See-2-Bee? You know they picked up Gupta?”

Shit? How do you know?”

We got some antennas down here. You West Coast kiddies think you are on top of everything. We got some tricks down here too.”

Where is he?”

Gupta? I heard outside Dallas. Cadez’s outpost. In an old business campus that Big Ears Ross Perot built.”


People are disappearing all over the country, and they ain’t showing up in jail neither. We are setting up to strike back.”

Who are you?”

Tiara pulled her head back at his blunt question.

I mean, when you say we…”

Huh? You really don’t know much, do you?” With a smile she couldn’t contain, Tiara picked up the bottle of sauvignon blanc and filled her glass. She held it up. “That bourbon you’re drinking is OK for sitting in on card games that you expect to lose.” She held the bottle up, weaving to the funk coming out of the front of the house. “Are you expecting to lose, or are you going to keep your head in this game?”

Kip poured his drink in the sink and held out his empty glass.

A dirty bourbon glass? This is good wine!”

Kip held his bourbon glass even closer, and she shrugged and filled it.

Not bad.”

Tiara put the bottle down and grabbed his hand and they did some shimmying to the music. She got real close to his face.

Nikoloz told me to say hi. And Milana sends her regards.”

Kip didn’t flinch or break his rhythm even a little. But his eyes did.

Nikoloz, huh? Where is he?”


You know he works for…”

Oh, I know who he works for!” She closed her eyes and moved closer with her hips. “What’s the matter? Georgia on your mind?”

Yeah, Kip thought, Georgia was on his mind. He had left Tbilisi only a few months ago, yet it seemed like a lifetime. Milana! She had saved him at his low point, and made him happy, maybe happier than he had been with GG.

That was rude of me. But I just wanted you to know – we really don’t know – but – uh – Nikoloz seems to know something about it – and well – we think she is in Russia. Or maybe just on her way.”


Yeah.” Tiara looked at him quizzically for a couple of seconds.

Don’t you call her GG?” Tiara gave him a look, with a hint of a smile that was both mocking and sympathetic.

Not anymore. Too intimate. Is she OK?”

Tiara’s countenance shifted and became more serious. She looked away, shrugged, and shook her head. “I don’t know. Are you OK?”

Kip stared at her. “Nikoloz, huh?”


Kip had told no one about his encounter with Milana’s mysterious half-brother, whose theatrical deletion of the SwiftPad off of his fone had so shaken Kip six months ago. Kip had assumed he was GRU (KGB), and now he was in contact with the Memphis resistance?

Tiara gave him that look. He knew that look.

Digging Around the Pandemic: The SwiftPad Extinction - Chapter 13



me in. We looks at each other, but he pretends; nothing to see, or remember. These masks sure do change things. I think I can recognize most people, mostly by their clothes, some just wear the same thing day after day. Eyes. You gotta look a lot closer now, ’cause you just see their eyes. But – him? His walk alone tells you it’s him, long, striding with a little bop in it, some kind of internal rhythm generated flex, and he is sure as black as black can be, even through his hat, mega-mask, and wrap-around sunglasses. I turn away, look again, and he is gone. Well, this fast-talking Island brother – so black, you’d think he was African – he told me Bart knows, but is pretending he doesn’t, at least not in the way he really knows. Of course, I know Bart and he knows me – he and Granddad had a go-around a few years back. I suppose he is wondering if I am gonna let on. Easy Peasy. I let my eyes dart around, about – five people watching me. Well, I guess I caused quite a stir. There is no way out. How much more time have I left? That Island blood told me that Bart is counting on me, I’ll not let him down, no matter. Point of pride, he understands it, although I am sure in the back of his mind he wonders what will make me break and call him out. But I won’t, no matter. They might think I am slow, but I know what’s going on. I am never getting out of here. I can’t. Nothing’s gonna change that.

I know this sounds funny, but there is a lot of strange stuff I really wanted to do. I mean when I am out on my raft, I think about a lot of things. On a hot summer day, when the river isn’t really running high or fast, it is so easy to float out there, and I wonder about the stars, and ancient stuff, like who built the pyramids? Maybe we have done all this before? Maybe somebody like me thought all this before. Nothing’s new, I know that. I know this stuff with Real-Prez – it’s old hat, everybody knows that. This ain’t the first time somebody like him took over. I read about how the Romans just gave up and let Caesar run things. Or maybe it was the other guy? Anyway, I know we have all been here before, and will again too. Probably. Maybe – if we even get that far.

But now things are getting really strange. Mind-reading machines. I hear about them and I want to try it myself. I thought about that whole deal once, and had it all figured out. If we could really see what was in people’s mind, wouldn’t that fix so much? We would see what really bad people was thinking, even if they seemed to be acting good, and the other way too. I hear people are “hooking up” – that’s what they say – with that C2B, or See-to-Be, whatever it’s called, advertisements for it all over, everywhere. People just lettin’ it take over their mind. Supposed to be those guys in turbans playing the flute for cobra snakes that do it, combined with some techno gizmo. Well, now that I think about it, it might be bad too – cause what if what you think is good is what is against the bad people?

And they find out that I’m against ’em? ’Cause I am. They say they’re gonna hook me up, to find out what I know, who helped me. Still, C2B sounds pretty interesting, gotta admit I am curious. Oh I am not afraid neither, my mind is my own, they can’t take it. But I’ll probably never get to find out. It’s supposed to let you learn a whole college book in a couple of hours, or so they say. Learn a foreign language in a week – parley voo fransay, hab low esplanada – at least that is what they say. I saw people up in St Loo last week toting a box around in a backpack, connected to one of those sticky hats of criss-crossed plastic on their heads, staring off in their own world, barely able to avoid running into people. I’d like to try it.

But they’re talking about hooking me up, to see if the gizmo can tell if I am lying. Shit, if they beat me, I’ll tell something, but I ain’t gonna really say nothing. They is looking at me as if I was a catfish, stinkin’ in the sun.

I see a lot of other faces too, a woman dressed nice, a couple others mostly angry and ugly. That’s just the audience. Well whatever they are gonna do to me, they probably won’t do it here, at least. Might as well enjoy what time I got left.

How did you know when to be there?”

Be where? You mean with my boat? I don’t got no fone no more, but I still get messages and check them once or twice a week on the pooter in the library. Lots of people seen me there. I still need to pay my fone bill, and I will, and get my fone back, because after 90 days they take away your messages, and I need that. That is how I get business. I get the messages to pick up guys, stuff, do shit around the river. I could make a lot more money than I do, you know. I turn down a lot of work.”

We checked your messages, Hank, and there was no message from anyone named ‘Chubby’ or anybody else who wanted to hire you to take them up the river.”

I know. I delete my messages as soon as I hear them. I am really sorry I did pick him up.”


Why do I delete them? Cause I don’t want the phone company to know I am getting messages I ain’t paying for. I always delete em permanent too. Gone.”

It’s not permanent, Hank. But regardless – why are you sorry you picked him up?”

Why? What am I gonna do? I left my raft docked upriver by the Randall bend. I am gonna lose it for sure. Who is gonna pay for that?”

I know, I know, you all are wondering why I worry ’bout that? Who gives a floating turd about the raft with a tin wigwam right? Yeah, maybe, but I don’t want these people thinking they have me figured out, ’cause, see, I’m “touched” a bit. Sometimes it pays to be misunder-estimated.

Somebody in the back said, “We don’t have time for this.”

Hank, why don’t you just tell us in your own words what happened.”

I just stared at him, like I didn’t hear him correctly.

We will make sure you get your raft back, when this is over,

if, as you say, you are innocent.”

My boat and my raft. That’s all I wanted to hear. OK?”

And your boat too.”

They look at me all sad like I don’t even know what is going on.

I had been pushed up on the beach there for about an hour when I heard the shouting. I was scared to bejeezus, because I wasn’t at all sure if I was doing something right or not. I mean, maybe I am not – I mean, I didn’t mean anything bad to happen.  I lived around the Cape all my life, and I knew how people think. Not everybody, but most of them. Mostly good people. Right? I just thought this guy was like everybody else.”

So who told you to wait there?”

Who told me? Nobody actually, I mean, I have been talking to people for quite a while about this Real-Prez business, and then I get a message saying they need my help, so I said I would do what I can…”

Who gave you the message?”

Who? You did, Bart, you sneaky bastard. That’s how that Island dude who never told me his name got me in on it! You, Bart – you who tried to shut my granddad down for putting that Klan bastard on his show. Is that why Granddaddy don’t talk to Momma no more? Bart was sweet on Momma when they was in high school, she said. Granddaddy liked him too much though, so she and my real daddy made me. Bart went away then comes back all lawyer-like, but he don’t like Granddaddy no more. Granddaddy don’t like him. Don’t like me neither. Twice he offered me money to leave town for good. I try not to smile. Momma is his only child and I am hers. He told Momma he is giving everything to the church.

Bart, not even smiling a little – this was kinda fun, ’cause I knows he knows and him knowing I knows, but nobody else knowing we both know – my Island buddy said never, ever tell anyone who or how or what.

I shoulda suspected then,” I says out loud, “I know. I had no notion about this thing happen outside Hot Shots.”

This thing?”

You know, the toorrist bombing.” I look around at their blank stares. “I didn’t know.”

Uh huh,” said his interrogator, who stopped and just stared at Hank.

What are we doing?” Alvin Hinkle, who owns a shitty landscape company I worked for years ago, and who accused me of stealing a lawn mower, when I didn’t, is talking now. “This is a waste of time. I got a rope in my truck.” It don’t matter now, he said it, and everyone heard it. A rope. That Island black dude, who I never seen before and who set this up, said Bart would be there to help, and now, he’s leading the investigation. So, I figure I have to be scared and sorry about it all, but really, I ain’t. If they is that good, maybe I got a chance! Or maybe I get sacrificed.  Like Abraham was fixing to do, when the Lord stayed his hand. Maybe this time, I’m just like Abraham’s son, only maybe God don’t call it off at the last minute. I just gotta lie here like Eye-zac. What if I slip up or get really scared? It’s all on me. But, then, Bart is in as much danger as I am. Stick together – I hope we are together – and hope for a sign – that’s my ticket! Lay it on Hanky boy!

Oh, no, no, Oh God, please don’t, I am telling you the truth!”

Got dem tears coming!

I see Bart look at Dumphy, and point at Hinkle. Deputy Dumphy walks over and touches him on the shoulder and signals him to leave. He does, shaking his head ’bout “wasting county money on a half-breed parasite.”

I do admit after he accused me of stealing his lawnmower, I sugared the tank of his backhoe. He never mentioned it that I know of, but I heard he sold it to Matt Honeycutt’s outfit and they had a ruckus about it.

Well, we aren’t going to hang you, Hank. Or torture you.” 

He signals for the other deputy (who I don’t know, but his name tag says Black”) to remove my handcuffs. I do know that he is the only black working for Sheriff Garrett. “Would you like something to eat, Hank?”

I shake my head. I was playing a game with myself, gotta make me forget what I know. Keep control, stay in my own mind. Sob a little, Hank. “On second thought, yee-ah, maybe a cheeseburger. You got any of that good catsup?”

Sure, Hank.” He looks around and I see him signal Dumphy to take care of it. Everybody around here knows what the good catsup is!The more you tell us about this guy you say gave you the message the – know what I am saying, Hank?”

I don’t know who it was.”

Was he white?”

I don’t know – he sounded foreign. I never seen him – never seen his face I mean.”


Long brown pants, long-sleeve bright green shirt with flowers on it. Looked nylon or something flimsy. Wore a hat and a big white hospital mask, I mean it covered almost everything. And sunglasses. Just glanced at him, and he was gone. Listen, some of you, you know me. I do a little independent business, you all know that. I move up and down the river, sometimes up above  St. Loo…”

How about Minneapolis?”

Naw, that be up a tributary. I stay on the main river. My raft’s been to Kansas City. Maybe someday, I go to Montana.”

There was laughter in the room.

And sometimes down to Memphis too, right?” Bart snapped as the laughter subsided.

Not lately.”

What do you mean, when were you last in Memphis?”

Well, you know, since the trouble down there, not much traffic going down or coming up, and you know how the – I don’t want to say who asked me, but I brought back a few cases of that good, that real good bourbon, and up and sold it. Couple months ago. Before all that hecka-booloo out in Or-ee-gon I mean.”

Meet anybody there about this thing here? About meeting this ‘Chubby,’ as you call him?”

Hell no! Just some man at that distillery on the river from, what’s it called, ‘Blue Note’?”

How long it take you?”

Going down river, about two days. Coming back, almost a week. River was running high last June. I had a breakdown too.”

So you take ten days to float down the river, and back, to pick up a couple cases of whiskey, to sell? How much did you make?”

Maybe fifty bucks. That covered my gas, which was almost that much, I guess it’s hard to get good bourbon. Anyways, you know I just like being on the river.”

OK. So you met nobody in Memphis except some guy at the bourbon distiller. Did you go out, drink, eat?”

No. I ate on the raft.” I can’t do more than shrug. They don’t believe me. Maybe one or two do, but I need mo’! I just know they gonna beat me later.

Well, Hank, you think about it. We will come back to talk about your Memphis business more thoroughly later.”

Oh, later! I doubt there will be a later. 

So you say you get this call to meet a guy near the Shawnee Bridge?”

Yeah, he said he give me fifty bucks.”

Again, fifty bucks. Is that your going rate?” This gets a laugh. I smile too, at first.

At least it ain’t thirty pieces of silver!” A bunch of ’em laugh even more. Maybe I shouldn’t a said that.

Where were you supposed to take him?”

Down the river, that is what he seemed to mean. Just a short trip.”

Down the river – you mean across, to Illinois. And this was right near the bridge?”

I give them all a dumb look, like that was the first time I had thought it odd. I shake my head. “He never said across. I took him down to Gray’s Point. Let him out by that bit of beach near Nash Road.

He seen some headlights flash and run to it.”

OK. What happened next?”

I head back up the river to my raft parked up by Bainbridge Creek.”

About 8 miles upriver from the Cape here, right?”

That’s right. I been parking the raft there for years. Sometimes I go across to Illinois, but I stay there mostly.”

Bart, he is stalling!” I look over at Deputy Dumphy. He’s been riding me since grammar school.

Darryl, where’s that hamburger I asked about?” Bart, he looks hard at Dumphy.

Cheeseburger,” I say quietly. I was gonna say something about the catsup too, but the good lord mercifully put a stop in my mouth.

Yes, cheeseburger,” says Bart, and everybody laughs quiet-like. Darryl leaves the room, shakin’ his head. “How did you know to pick him up, Hank?”

So I gets this call,” I says, “he said his name was Chubby. That he would pay $50 to pick him up just before sundown at the base of Morgan Oaks Street, where the levee breaks off, and you can walk from Water Street to the beach. Just upriver from the Shawnee Bridge.”

It was getting dark about then, right?”


Did you hear the explosion?”

I sure did. I expect everybody in town did.”

And when did this ‘Chubby’ fellow…”

That’s what he said – to call him, ‘Chubby.’ He was pretty – pretty big, as they say. Every part of him was pretty thick. Not exactly fat though.”

What else?”

His hair was real short, like he shaved his head not too long ago. Missing a tooth. Weird beard, long stash – sideburns – old-timey looking.”


Bart is writing something down, and there is a murmur and a bunch of whispering. A guy I don’t know whispers something to Bart, and Bart nods.

Right, that fits with other descriptions we have. So how long after the explosion did he show up?”

Five minutes. Maybe less.” 

Did you see him on a bicycle?”

Bicycle? No.”

Where did you go?”

He said he wanted to go down a ways, down past town. He had one of them picture maps, a photo from high up in a plane and I recognize Gray’s Point.”

You mean the big bend in the river south of town?”

Well – yeah. It was just bout dark by then, but I knew the way. I let him off, and he gave me a hundred bucks. Five twenties. I wasn’t unhappy, I do say that, even though I sure am now.”

You helped a terrorist escape. You know what that makes you?”

Stupid, I suppose.”

No one answers that. Actually, we did go down to Gray’s Point, then we turned around and he pulled the tarp on his self and I crossed over and hugged the Illinois shore and took him about 8 miles up and I was fixin’ to let him off on the Illinois side. But he changed his mind, so we crossed back over and hid out inside my raft. Waited all night and all day, then the next night, I took him over to Illinois near Ware. And he was gone. If they catch him, they will put it together, and I will get the needle for sure. People been talking about hanging though, probably so they can all watch. Probably will anyway. Al Hinkle has a bunch of friends who would help hoist me up. So it don’t matter anymore. Probably pulled Momma in for it too, but Granddaddy will help her, at least I hope he will. Anyway, how did he – he did call his self? Dean, Dane? That Island blood did actually say his name real fast, but I could hardly understand him when he talked. Had all the cool – like a slick city brother, but more like a hippie, and then the Island too – Bob Marley but unplugged. He’s the one I met in Memphis and figured out somehow I was secretly for Colonel Coleman and the whole Memphis thing. Al Den. Albert Dennis? I really can’t remember, which is good, I guess. It was something like that. I suppose he looked at my skin tone. Or else he got a message from Bart here. I just gotta let it ride. Don’t wish for nothing, keep my mouth shut, see how it plays. Probably I am dead. Nothing to be done. No point squealing, won’t help, besides. I have never tried to pass for white, even though I think I could, better than Michael Jackson anyway. Fuck, the older I get, the more happy I ain’t white! If anybody asks – I am glad to tell them my black daddy was Ezekial Moncrief, who everybody around here knows, or at least heard him play the saxophone a few times. And they also know my momma was the daughter of the owner of the local FOX station, as well as a number of other businesses, mostly to do with real estate and construction, and he was mayor some years back. When she went to the hospital, she said Jack Ford was my daddy. Jack’s a white man of course, or at least was. But Momma never married him, and he drowned when I was a baby. So everybody knows me, and they think I am touched, and I may well be. My granddaddy tried to get me to work for him, but he refuses to forgive Momma for making me the way she did. So I’ll be damned to hell and back if I am gonna work for him! Anyway, I know everything about that river, and have been from one end up in Minny-soda too, and yeah way up the Mizzoo too, down to Big Easy. I figured what else do I need? My dream – what I always thought maybe I could do someday is work on one of them barges, maybe be captain someday, but I know this stuff – this thing I did – well, I ain’t ever gonna get a job like that now. At least not the way things are now.

Anyway, this guy, Chubby, the same man said for me to be at the levee directly by Morgan Oaks Street, before sundown, so I was. All Chubby said was, ‘Be ready,’ and I was. There was another man talked to me about it earlier, it’s true. He must of told Chubby, as good as I can figure.”

I looked out at all the faces, and they didn’t look too happy at all.

Other man?”

Yeah. A couple days ago. Said I could make some fast money if I want, take a guy down river some. A Black come up to me outside the Quick Mart, over on Townsend Street. I come in there mostly on Wednesday night to check on the Powerball numbers. And buy a ticket for next week.”

Never seen this Black guy before?”

Never in my life!”

And that’s where you met this Chubby?”

Yeah – told me to come back the next night. That’s where I first seen this Chubby.”

So what were you doing when it happened, Hank? Didn’t it make you suspicious it being a rush job. And a secret?”

Well I was there, expecting to make a little money, as I said. I thought maybe – I don’t really know what I think, except about the money. Anyway, I was waiting there on the beach near Morgan Oaks. I was dabbing some glue onto a patch of fiberglass I put on the bottom of my skiff when I heard the loudest explosion I ever known, felt real close too. Hurt my eardrums for a minute or two. Then, I don’t know – five minutes, maybe longer, I turn and this Chubby is walking real fast, right at me. Nobody behind him at least. He looked kind of funny, at the time anyway.”

What did he say to you?”

He said something that I couldn’t make out ’cause I think the explosion made my ears a little deef, just a little, you know, cause I was a good – well not a half mile away, if that, if it happened by Hot Shots, as I hear it happened. This Chubby fella, he just jumped into my boat and stared at me. “Let’s go!” he yelled, pointing downstream. I pulled the cord on my outboard  and we took off headin’ down river. I decided to ride nice and slow. I stayed real close to the shore, riding under the bridge, right along the edge. Pretty soon sirens were going off and people were screaming, you could hear it all because sound travels really clear on the river. Nobody was paying any attention to me though. I just kept going.”

Then what happened?”

We got to the bend in 30–40 minutes or so. He paid me and runned off toward some flashing headlights.”

It was pitch dark out.”

Yeah, I know. No moon, neither. He was gone before I could say boo.”

Then what?”

Then I turned around, rode up past town. Sirens still going off as I passed town. I started wondering if I done a bad thing. I got to the raft and stayed there. I started thinking maybe I done a bad thing, like I said, so I stayed on the boat for a day, looking at my money, wondering if it really was like them thirty pieces of  silver. I always wondered what they meant by pieces? Like little rocks or something? Anyhoo, I stayed on my raft all the next day, doing little chores. More and more though, I known I done wrong. So I came back to town, figuring I would tell somebody. Pulled into the Red Star ramp and then Darryl picked me up real quick. He threw me around hard, like I was trash. I suppose somebody seen me.”

Did this Chubby say anything when you were on the boat?”

He said some guys were looking for him ’cause he was lovin’ on one of their girlfriends.”

You believe him?”

Yeah, at first, ’cause I was – you know – I sure didn’t think he sploded that bomb and kilt people!”

What’d you think the big noise was?”

I asked him. He shook his head, said it sounded like a propane tank getting too close to a welding arc. I remember the McKee boys was putting up some iron struts in the warehouse up the block they was fixing to make into expensive apartments. I seen them work, and I knew they was foolish hiring them, so, yeah, I thought it might be that.”

You really thought it was a propane tank?”

More likely acetylene or one of them other arc-welding gases. Why not? How it make sense other-hoo? Who think somebody gonna do that? It kinda made sense – I figured a really ugly girl with a mean boyfriend mighta let him do some lovin’, ’cause he was pretty disturbing to see.”

So you didn’t even consider the possibility that this Chubby, who you describe almost exactly like the other witnesses described the bomber – you didn’t even suspect he might have something to do with the bomb?”

What bomb? How did I know it was a bomb when it went  off? When this Chubby get on my boat, after he gived me fifty, he said the splosion must of been some kind of a gas leak or a maybe a gas tank, real casual. He acted like he had no idea either. Yeah, I believed him. Him being in a hurry and all, that did concern me, it’s true, but only later. He paid upfront in cash – and then after we got going he gave me another fifty, double what we agreed. That made me pretty happy. I really didn’t think he done something bad. What else could it be? He seemed a nice guy, funny. He said he was sorry about Coleman dying down in Memphis, I suppose ’cause he thought – I don’t know.” 

Because you’re Black.”

I ain’t Black, I am cream, with a touch of coffee.” No one laughed. “Or the other way. No, I didn’t say nothing one way or the other about Coleman. When he paid me double, I admit I was pretty happy and didn’t think more about it. Hundred dollars a lot of money.”

Actually, me and Chubby spent the night in my tin wigwam on the  raft and settle in for the night. Up north by Bainbridge Creek. He had some real good mara-jew-wanna, so we sparked up and that made sleep easier. That’s when he told me about killing those guys that killed Colonel Coleman. Boom! I knowd it was something like that. I knowd he did the bombing, sure, but not why he did it. They ran right next to his bomb and he fired it off with his fone. Showed me how it worked. He wanted me to come with him, and get out of the Cape. Leave my raft and boat? I suppose I should of listened to him. But since I knowd that Bart Jones, sitting right in front of me, introduced me to the Island brother, Adean, or whatever his name is, I figured I wouldn’t have no trouble. Now he is pretending to be against me. Maybe he can get me out of this. But I didn’t think it would be like this.

Sunday, September 20, 2020

What is the Point of the SwiftPad Saga?


People read the back covers of the SwiftPad Saga novels, and the question is


From the first book  New Business…Takeover…

...Narcissism is the shiny object that always attracts, and today it drives the bottom line. You have to be the star in your own show, and now, with the Internet social media sensation SwiftPad, there are new episodes about you each time you connect!

Or the second book …Golden Fungus…Insurgency

 But Ben Cadez, former Nixon operative and Paula’s one-time lover, also wields the power of the youth-preserving Golden Fungus and is now a Republican candidate for President. They are all in the crosshairs of a deranged and corrupt President, and Portland must decide whether to co-opt or fight.

And the trilogy’s  final volume Pandemic…Extinction

Follow the Insurgents as they retaliate against the Incumbent's reprisals, while fighting for the hearts and minds of an increasingly fragmented electorate. Meanwhile Kip Rehain, SwiftPad founder, seeks his former lover and business partner GG, by slowly making his way into the heart of the Leviathan, where nature conspires with mega-hackers and a mysterious disease to bring all of us into the next stage of existence.

Author Page

“What are you trying to say Lee? What is your point?”

First off, it wasn't until long after I finished writing it that I realized the last two volumes of the trilogy are about a 2nd term of a tRump presidency. Fortunately for the world and the U.S. that 2nd term is pure fiction, like the novels...

I didn’t know it would be a “trilogy” when I finished the first novel,  “Digging up New Business:The SwiftPad Takeover”.   I started it the day after I “separated” from IBM. I wasn’t ready to go. In fact, I felt I was at my peak as a consultant, still energetic, with real solid experience under my belt, strong technically, winning and keeping business for the company.  I felt like I was being wasted when I finally was beginning to get pretty good at my profession.

So I decided to write: 

1) a satire of how a company like IBM operates. 

2) a satire of Portland, populated with some characters I was familiar with 

3) an exploration of the business and technical underpinnings of an idealized Social Media product. 

4) roll it all into a whodunit mystery, with a crazed Ted Bundy-like serial killer calling from inside the house. 

With the above “prescription” I wrote the book. I learned a few things, and during the editing I learned even more. I got “professional help” (a brilliant editor, Linda Franklin) and learned more.

 That was my second novel. My first book, “Farewell the Dragon” was almost written “in the dark”. The process of writing a novel can be a life changing experience. At least it is for me. I take the ‘suffering artist’ part of the process to heart. When you first start a long fiction story there are of course many unknowns. I suppose that you can know the beginning, middle and end of a short story before you even write the first sentence. But with a work of 100 thousand words or more, you just have to have confidence in your inner “story machine”.  You need a belief that it will come, and you will find your way through it. There are days, even weeks where it doesn’t come, and you have to fight through that. When it finally does come, it can be cause for some troubling introspection. 

It is a difficult process that you soon become aware is not something that you can count on. That the “well” you pull the story from is only so deep and the water will only be refreshing and thirst quenching for so long. So you are working against time. Once started it has to be finished directly or it will be lost. 

I think the first book, Farewell the Dragon, worked. I have some great reviews from serious readers.

Farewell the Dragon reviews.

The first SwiftPad book worked too. The ending was surprising and satisfying to readers. But some of the characters were a little thin for my tastes,  I knew I could do better, and  (to my annoyance) the story was nowhere near finished.  Even on those days when I wanted to abandon it, I couldn't.

Kirkus review of the SwiftPad Takeover

So, the larger theme of the SwiftPad Saga evolved.  Digging up New Business:The SwiftPad Takeover had opened too many questions for me to ignore them.  Clearly politics became more and more central to the story, as politics has become more central to everyone, and as the implications of the US Presidential election of 2016 became clearer. Oh, I wasn’t totally surprised and I warned many people against casting their votes for him.  I kind of “predicted” the incursion by the unmarked “little Green men” (what Putin’s forces were called in Crimea) into the city of Portland Oregon. (see the second book Digging the Golden Fungus: The SwiftPad Insurgency). But still, the inhumanity of this junta can’t help but surprise anyone. 

The monster who was elected in 2016 changed everything. I came to believe that art - all art - was meaningless if it ignored the existential reality we were living and watching - and reading social media. Since the first novel was about the creation of the “next generation of social media” and it took place in Portland Oregon - well - the second, “…Insurgency…” novel is a story that was much more organic than the first book. I didn’t need a prescription. The whole novel just blasted out of the world we are living in during 2019-2020.

As for the final volume - Digging Around the Pandemic: The SwiftPad Extinction  - it was an organic writing process as well, but not as easy. Since Portland became ground zero for protests, and I sort of - predicted it - I was forced into a box. Would I try and predict the rest of it? As I write this it is still fifty days until the election - the books are finished and being printed. So I went back to satire - dark satire, that came out of a reality of my own imagination.

“Is this some kind of left wing Turner Diaries rip-off?”

No. Turner Diaries is a notorious novel about a right wing revolt against a liberal government - (I have not read it) - but I know it was a handbook and Bible of sorts for Timothy McVeigh, who set the Oklahoma City Fertilizer Bomb. In a way the SwiftPad Saga does try and come to grips with a fact that the right has been crowing about for a long time - that they all have guns. And liberals for the most part do not. So what hope is there if things come down to a real fight? History doesn’t leave much hope for the unarmed.

Well - we have other strengths.  I try and look at that, and see how it might come out if we use those strengths. After all, conflict is no longer just about infantry with rifles. So, I try to give some hope for if things go off the rails.  But that is the last thing I want to see.

But doesn’t talking about it make it more likely to happen?

I don’t know. I don’t think so.  That certainly isn’t what I want. But in the 20th Century, things went horribly wrong because of disastrous domestic political events. So, I guess I am gaming it out. Trying to see what might happen. Of course I insert what some might call “a lot of nonsense” (such as the love affairs and the unusual Eukaryote (fungus) that plays a prominent role.) But I don’t think that there is any danger of people taking this book to heart as a prescription for armed rebellion. The story is not bits and pieces cobbled together but a unitary whole. It is FICTION. I hope it is art.  It is a story.

Monday, August 31, 2020

The Origin Story of Farewell the Dragon



Farewell the Dragon is one of the backstories of the SwiftPad Series. The first novel in the series is set some 30 years before the rise of SwiftPadFarewell the Dragon is not about the alt-history of  the most pervasive and powerful social media conglomerate in the world.  But this novel does introduce a recurring and  important character in the SwiftPad Trilogy. Nathan Schuette, the narrator of Farewell the Dragon is a drunken semi-lothario and sometime writer and his influence on the future of our alt-history will be pervasive.  This is the origin story of how the novel Farewell the Dragon came to be.

How I came to Xian China in the mid-80s, and my real life experiences there, I have told elsewhere -  

But to actually write Farewell the Dragon required some gentle prodding. it  took a friend to push me over the edge and really do it -  to really follow my teenage dreams and really be a writer. 

Three months after arriving in China, I met Jim Barry at a party/banquet  in downtown Xian.  We both were hitting the pre-dinner drinks more than the other foreign teachers, and experts who had been invited by the City of Xian, and I told Jim I liked to write and was thinking about a novel about China. Instead of nodding, and politely changing the subject as most would do when I was jabbering about my unfulfilled ambitions, Jim convinced me that night that I had to do it, that I had to take it seriously, that I had to start writing that “novel”. I doubt I would have done it if I hadn’t had that conversation. But Jim had an affect on me, or maybe it was the Chinese
baijiu, the white lightning made of sorghum and other secret ingredients that filled me with a purpose that had been missing up to that point.  Jim and I are still good friends, 35 years later, and he will always be one of my favorite people in the world, even when we (frequently) disagree.   
The banquet was put on for foreign teachers by the local government, probably because the national government told them to put it in the budget.   Banquets honoring foreign guests are ancient traditions in the Middle Kingdom. Compared to Beijing, Xian is a relative backwater, if a city of 12 million, (in 1985, only 1.5 million) can be considered such.  But Xian, the ancient city of Chang’An, the Tang dynasty capital, had older traditions than the “new” capital of Beijing and was more hospitable in some ways. 
Jim was from Philly, and because I grew up in South Jersey, we immediately hit it off. In the mid-80s China had to be the most interesting place in the world, because it was changing so fast. It had only been 6 or 7 years away since the end of the Cultural Revolution.   For Chinese people, just being in the same room with foreigners was an astonishing experience. It made us (mostly white foreigners from North America, Oceania and Europe) into celebrities, gawked at wherever we went, listened to raptly even when the listeners didn’t know English, always stared at in every public moment of our lives.  In our alcoholic glow both Jim and I saw that we saw things much the same way; that we were first hand witnesses to the mutual rediscovery of two wildly different cultures and that it was a Big Story.  While ordinary Chinese were still discouraged from getting too close to us, still, there was much that we saw, much that could not be hidden from us.  From that perspective we both understood we were in on the beginning of a new chapter of history. 
Jim was a real journalist, and there was much to report. When told by a student about the meat cleaver murder of a Muslim by a Han Chinese at a nearby market, Jim  went to work the way any western journalist would. Not taking no for an answer, he pushed the limits of information freedom, and probably prodded the Chinese authorities to come to decisions that still stand about just how much information they would allow out. Jim’s time as an English teacher came to an end.  
Jim’s stories about the subsequent demonstrations by the large Xian Muslim population against the failure of local police to follow up and make an arrest for the murder fueled the public anger. The demonstrations in front of the ancient Xian Mosque became exponentially bigger with each story Jim filed, first with Reuters, then VOA and the other news services.  Chinese still listened to VOA on the radio in much the way portrayed in 1950’s American newsreels, secretly away from the ears of the local communist neighborhood committee ladies who kept an eye on people. 
Finally, in order to end the daily radio reports from coming into the homes of the local Muslims, Jim and his wife were escorted out of China.  
He “willed” me his contacts with Reuters in Beijing, but the only story I filed was spiked. It reported the accidental deaths of nearly thirty people, whose bodies I witnessed being brought to the medical school where I taught.  The local police  denied it ever happened. A couple of months later, I was discovered to be the source of the report, and was given the choice of staying in China and promising to not report anymore or being deported. I chose to stay. I was not a real reporter, but thanks to Jim’s prodding I was still determined to write the China novel.
Jim himself went on to bigger things, reporting on some of the most compelling stories of our lifetime: The rise of ISIS in Afghanistan, and an encounter with Osama himself, and later interviewing John Gotti at the height of his power. He produced highly praised documentaries about the Philly mob (A&E’s Mobfathers and others) and has won numerous awards for reporting and producing. 
I finally returned to the US two years later, and became a computer systems technologist. My wife Mary and I suddenly had a newborn son, and I was in a new phase of life. But I didn’t forget China.  Over the next fifteen years, I continued to hone the story I started in Xian, finally in 2005 “self-publishing” (actually “vanity publishing” as my amateurish queries to literary agents and publishers went unanswered) Farewell the Dragon.     
I have republished it twice, once for an editorial upgrade, (with critical help from the brilliant literary editor Linda Franklin), and once to finally end my dependence on “vanity publishers”.  I founded  “Barckwords Publishing” and am putting out all my long fiction (three, soon four novels) with IngramSpark as a distributor.
Farewell the Dragon (FTD)is a first person account of a fictional murder investigation in Beijing.  But because the narrator and main character of FTD shows up and plays a big part in “The SwiftPad Trilogy” an alt-history our current time, it might be required reading for those who want to know the complete backstory of the SwiftPad Series. So stay tuned.