the tunnels – part 16

December 8, 2010

Jude asked me to meet him for a late Sunday afternoon brunch at a cafe on Carmine and Bedford.   The place was tiny and relatively empty.  It faced out on to one of those confusing West Village triangles.  Although there was a sprinkling of sidewalk tables, I found Jude at a small table in front of a rectangular pole – next to the bar.  He was drinking what looked like vodka on the rocks and staring off into space.

“Hey, Norah,” he said, sheepishly, as he slid out of his chair to stand up.

“Jude,” I gave him a weak hug.

“You’re late,” he grinned.

“I know,” I smiled.  “I don’t get around like I used to.”  And it was true.  My hip was sore and I liked to rest on the weekends – though it was good for me to get out.

“So, order something – anything you like,” Jude said kind of stiffly.

“Thank you,”  I said, opening the menu and eyeing the blackboard specials.

“Their eggs are pretty good.  How have you been? You’re working finally,” Jude said, wryly.

“I am.  I’m happy,” I lied, although part of me was happy to be leading a simpler life.  “How about you?”

“Well, I’m back from the beach for awhile,” he said, taking a sip of his drink.

“How was it?  Fruitful?” I asked.

“I’m just here for a couple of weeks,” Jude said, ignoring my question.

A disheveled waiter, who looked exhausted and possibly hungover, or both, approached our table.

“I’ll have the eggs rancheros,” I said, knowing I wouldn’t eat a bite. “And coffee.”

“So what are you doing at ‘The Record?'” Jude asked.

“I’m working on local crime stuff mostly,” I said.  “You know, finding people who don’t want to be found and making their lives miserable,” I said.

“Well, well, well,” Jude smiled. “What has happened to our star producer?  She’s become a beat reporter at a local paper.”

“I suppose I have,” I grinned.

“And you had such potential,” he said.

“To?” My coffee had arrived and I was grateful.

Jude took a sip of his drink.  “I thought you might have worked for us one day,” he said.

“I know,” I said. “I thought so too.  There were times I wanted to throw myself on your mercy and come work for the dark side,” I shifted my weight off my bad hip.  “But I remembered I was a journalist and someone has to stay objective,” I said.

Jude burst out laughing.  I laughed with him.  “Ah, Jude.  not everyone can be bought,” I said.

“It’s nice to know you feel that way,” he said.

“I’m sorry I can’t say the same for Lauren Parker,” I said.  “I’ve thought of you a few times since she went to jail.”  Lauren Parker was currently serving time in prison for not revealing who one of her sources was in her WMD stories.

“I don’t know why she won’t cooperate,” Jude said.  “It’s a matter of national security.”

“She’s doing something reporters are allowed to do.  She’s protecting a source,” I answered.  “Do you think someone got mad at her?  Dropped a dime on her?  Didn’t she play nicely?”

“It’s good to see you working for a local paper,” Jude laughed.

“Don’t be so sure I can’t change things from where I sit now,” I smiled.  “Perhaps Osama reads the tabs,”  I winked.

the tunnels – part 15

October 22, 2010

Lauren Parker was a high profile, investigative reporter at the Trib.  She worked for their “I Team,” as we used to call it.  “I” stood for “investigative,” but the truth was, they all did investigative work at the Trib.  The difference was that the I-Team people were paid 3 times as much the rest of the paper and they made frequent TV appearances.  Lauren was an expert on superbugs and since the war, she’d become a germ  warfare talking head – appearing regularly on the Sunday morning talk show circuit.  For some reason, Larry had sent me a link to a “Slate” magazine article on Lauren and her WMD reporting.

“Jude wanted me to pass this on to you,” he’d written.

It was a couple of weeks after our visit and I’d made myself a little scarce. I was sitting in an empty, darkened office at the end of a long day.  I was exhausted from working a couple of doubles.  The fluorescent lighting out by the cubes was just too much.  The station was using extra producers in-studio during the morning show, because the war coverage was so heavy – so doubles were the norm back then and the OT was nice.

“Thanks,” I wrote back.  “How is Jude?”

I shut down the computer, double-checked my bag to make sure I had my wallet, my glasses, my keys, my ipod.  I just didn’t have the energy for a volley.  My cell started ringing in the outside pocket of my bag.  Of course, it was Larry.

“Hey,” I said.

“You got my email?” Larry asked.

“Hi, Larry, I’m about to duck into the subway, but, yes, I got your link. Great profile of Lauren. Thanks,” I said drily.

“I thought you might like it,” Larry snickered.  “She’s had some good breaks.”

“She’s one of the privileged few,” I said – sick of hearing praise for the elite at the Trib.

“Sure, sure.  Well, I’ve heard she’s had some good luck, shall we say,” he snickered.

“Whatever, Larry,” I said, ignoring his inferring that Lauren was on the take.

“So Norah, I’m wondering if you and Shakti could come by this weekend again,” Larry said awkwardly.

“Uhmm.  What brings this on?” I giggled.  “More paintings?”

“No,” Larry said, quietly.  “Actually, I was thinking we could watch a movie.”

“Oh, that’d be fun,” I said, thinking this was one, lonely man. “What movie?”

“It’s called ‘The Lathe of Heaven.’ Know it?” he asked.

“I do not, but I’m sure if you like it, it’ll be interesting,” I said.

“Yeah, yeah. It’s kind of an end of the world flick. I think you’ll get a kick out of it,” Larry snorted.  “How about Saturday again?”

“Sure.  I’ll ask Shakti.”

“Yeah, that’d be great.  Thanks, Norah.”

“Sure,” I smiled. “I gotta go, babe. I’ll call you as soon as I know.”

*    *   *

I dialed up Shakti as soon as I stepped off the El. She was not a night person, but I was all fired up suddenly.

“Hey, Shakti. Sorry to call you so late, hun.”

“Norah, how wonderful to hear from you,” Shakti purred. She sounded like she was in meditation land.

“Shakti, would you come with me to Larry’s again this Saturday? He wants us to watch a movie at his place.”

“What movie, baby?” she asked.

“I don’t know. It’s called ‘Heaven’s Lathe’ or something.”

“‘The Lathe of Heaven,'” Shakti corrected me from the astral. “I know it.  Have him come to my place,” she said.

“You sure?” I asked.

“My place. Saturday. 3p,” she trailed off.

“Sweet dreams, honey. Love you. Blessed be,” I said.

“Love you too.”

*    *     *

I was looking out the dining room window in Shakti’s Upper West Side apartment.  The window faced south on to 93rd Street and her apartment was close to the river – so I was catching some late afternoon sun as it reflected off the water.  Shakti had made me some percolated coffee.  I loved that she still had a coffee pot. It reminded me of my mom.

“He’s coming,” she said.

“Oh, I’m not worried,” I said, enjoying the view of the river through the buildings.

“No,” Shakti said, firmly.  “I mean, he’s here.”

2 seconds later, the doorman buzzed and she told him to let Larry come up. We moved over to the living room area.  Shakti handed me a coaster for my coffee mug and I sat down on her super comfortable rust-colored, upholstered bench.  Shakti’s living area was decorated in rusts, varying shades of green, burgundies and black lacquered wood.  Across from the conversation nook where I’d taken a seat, was a large, decorative fireplace that Shakti had covered completely with a giant photograph of the face of a golden bodhisattva statue.

I let Shakti usher in Larry.  As usual, he was dressed in brown pants and a navy work shirt. For a change, though, he was wearing a light blue jacket with gray, leather sleeves. He’d stuffed the tape in his right jacket pocket.

Shakti was all smiles and giggles. She took Larry’s jacket and hung it up in the bathroom over the tub – her makeshift closet.   Larry ambled into the living room, while Shakti moved into the kitchen to pour Larry some coffee.

“Hey, Norah,” Larry said, heading for the green and rust colored chair to my right.  It was one of my favorite chairs, upholstered with a Chinese painting of  soldiers on horses, charging into battle.

“Larry,” I smiled, as I got up to hug him.  “Thanks for coming up here.”

“Sure, sure. It’s nice to get out,” Larry said, still standing.  I couldn’t believe it – not only had he cleaned up, but Larry was also waiting for Shakti to return before taking a seat.  Shakti breezed back in with coffee for Larry and a bowl of raw sugar – which she placed on the black lacquered coffee table in the center of the room.   Before settling down, Shakti, slid a large, mahogany armoire with ivory inlay over toward us.

“This,” she said, “I discovered works well for holding my TV and tapes.” Shakti popped the doors open by pressing on them. Inside there was a 24″ screen TV and a VCR.  “Work for you?” she squeaked, taking a sip of coffee.

“Works great for me,” I grinned, crossing my legs and leaning back.

“Larry, do you want us to focus on anything in particular?” Shakti asked, taking seat on the small, olive green couch to my left.

“Not really,” Larry said. “I just like the movie a lot. It was a TV movie at first.  It’s about a guy who has these dreams and the dreams start becoming realities – so he’s afraid to sleep,’ Larry coughed.

“You okay?” Shakti asked, standing up to get him water.

“I’m fine, fine,” Larry coughed.  Shakti hurried off to get a glass of water nonetheless.

“Norah,” Larry said to me. “Who else do you think likes this movie?”

I laughed. “Me? Are you anticipating I’ll like this?”

“Oh, that goes without saying, Norah,” Larry snickered. Shakti handed him a glass of water, picked up the remote and sat back down.

“What did I miss?” she asked, crossing her cute, little legs. She was wearing black leggings,  dark brown, chunky mary-janes  and a black and red embroidered Indian shirt with mirrors sewn into it – tres 70s.

“Oh, no, nothing,” I said. “Larry was just saying this movie is the favorite of someone else – so I guessed me.”

Larry took a sip of water. “A couple of things to think about,” he said. “First of all, the name of the dreamer is George Orr – remind you of anything?”

“George Orwell?” Shakti knitted her brow.

“Very good,” Larry snickered. “Lots of times people communicate through movies.  You know, sometimes paintings, sometimes movies.  Uday, for instance, had a collection of almost a thousand videos.”

“Uday?? As in Saddam’s son, Uday?” I laughed.  “Uday liked ‘Lathe of Heaven?'”

Larry smiled and winked. “When we raided the palace we found thousands of tapes – not just the wild party movies Uday had made of himself. These guys like old movies.  Like they get ideas from them and communicate about them in emails, let’s just say. “

“Like what were some of the other titles?” I asked.  “‘Doctor Strangelove?'”

‘Norah, not nice!” Larry laughed.

“Oookay,” Shakti said, hitting play.  “Shall we?”

*     *     *

George Orr is a guy who realizes that whenever he dreams something, it becomes a reality the very next day.  This is  all fine and good, when the dreams are pleasant ones, but when they become dreams of disaster, George starts freaking out.  Petrified of contributing to an apocalyptic future, he begins to fight sleep – popping pills to stay awake.

George’s world appears to be one of post nuclear holocaust, post natural disaster.  The streets are filled with people covered in disease and filth.  Desperate men and women, maimed and starving, reach out to George wherever he walks through the town where he lives.  He tries to find help to be able to control his dreams, and because he is on public assistance, we find him in a vast auditorium, where he is waiting see a therapist.  The psychologist to whom George is assigned is enthralled by George’s ability to manifest his dreams.  The doctor seeks to control George’s dreams himself – so that he can live in his own version of a Utopian society.  He harnesses George’s powers, by hooking him up to a dream machine and directing George to dream about a wonderful, idyllic, sweet world.

Horrified of being controlled, George runs away, as soon as he realizes what the doctor is up to.  Away from the doctor’s clutches, George stumbles on a world of aliens who are gentle and intuitive and kind.  They have the same gift of dreaming that George has and they have learned how to just go with the flow and accept these powers.  George no longer feels alone and he is happy in this world of aliens that look like people in turtle costumes.

The credits started to roll and Shakti got up to rewind the tape and stretch her legs.

“Wow,” I said.

“Yes, wow,” Shakti echoed.

“Well, I’m glad the turtles came and George has friends now,” I said.  I really liked the bad costumes. I’d found them comforting.

“Yeah, that’s nice, Norah,” Larry snickered.

“Larry, you know, I feel we’re more likely to destroy ourselves than to destroy each other.  That’s clear. Global warming is alive and well and gaining momentum. Who wrote the screenplay?” I asked.

“Ursula Leguinn,” Shakti said.

“Oh, that’s right. I saw her name float by,” I said. Ursula Leguinn had written one of the first books that a high priestess had ever assigned me to read – a book called “Wizard of Earth Sea.”  “She’s very knowledgeable about magic, about mind over matter,” I mused.

We were quiet for a moment.  “That movie was eerie,” I said. “I liked it, though.  What about the plague, Larry? Do you think it will all converge?  Global warming? A plague? An alien invasion?”

“I think we’re headed there,” Larry wheezed.

“I feel like the well-meaning shrink who wants to save the world from being destroyed,” I said.

“I know the feeling,” Larry said. “What do you think, Shakti?  Can we still be saved?”

“You wouldn’t be here if I didn’t think that,” Shakti laughed.

“I’m interested in why you wanted to share it with us,” I said.  “Again I’m seeing an end of the world scenario. This movie didn’t have a happy ending,” I chided Larry.

“Disease, Norah, is inevitable,” Larry said.

“Okay, Larry,” I took a deep breath through my teeth.  “I am going to tell you something my high priest used to tell me all the time.  And that is – ‘you attract that which you are most afraid of.’  This is magick 101.”

“I like it,” Larry said.

“Feel free to use it,” I grinned.

Shakti, who’d been clearing dishes, stopped dead in her tracks on the other side of the room.  “Norah, hun, you don’t look too well,” she said.  “Are you feeling alright?”

“Oh, I feel a little weird, but I haven’t really eaten all day.  I’ll feel better after I eat,” I reassured her.

“Can I get you something?” she asked.

“Maybe we should call a cab,” I said. “I’m pretty beat.”

“I can drive you, Norah,” Larry said.

“Thanks, but I can handle it,” I said.

Shakti handed me a lemon-frosted Luna bar and that’s about all I remember from that night. A few days later, the 2 of them would be visiting me at New York Presbyterian Hospital.  I had an infection that went necrotic in a matter of days.  What had appeared as a boil on my right buttocks, quickly became a large hole that mysteriously ate through a couple inches of flesh.

Tom took me to the ER the night after movie night with Shakti and Larry.  I remember saying it hurt a lot. I remember screaming.  The ER sent us home with antibiotics and we were back the following night.  This time, they shot me full of pain killers.  Doctors from all over the hospital came to study my ass.  I was too out of it to care – making jokes about signing release forms and asking if I’d be able to check myself out on the internet.

I spent an entire week lying on my stomach in a hospital bed and begging friends to bring me good coffee and french bread and cheese.  I snuck in emails to Peggy and Don.  Bobbie sent flowers.  I tested negative for Lupus, Lymphoma, Chron’s, Diabetes – anything that could give you gangrene or kill your immune system.   I was ultimately diagnosed with a staph infection – nothing more.  I would be hospitalized twice more that year.  It took several rounds and doses of different antibiotics before the staph stopped recurring.

*    *     *

It was my first day back at work.  I had only a few positions in my repertoire.  I could sit on the edge of my chair so nothing pressed against the wound or I could stand or lie down on my stomach.  Mostly, I stood.  I was telling Peggy war stories from hospital hell, when Don poked his head around the corner.

“Norah!  Welcome back.  Did you get the flowers?” he asked.

“They were from everyone?” I asked.  I’d seen only Bobbie’s name.

“Yeh, we were worried about you, Norah,” Don said.

Something didn’t feel right.  “Well, they were beautiful,” I said.  “Thanks.  How are things here?  Anything new on Elizabeth Smart?” I asked.

“Just take it easy first day back,” Don said.

“Don,” Peggy said.  “You know, Norah was emailing pitches from the hospital.  You can’t keep this woman down.  We’ll see you in the meeting.”

“Sure,” Don said.  His Blackberry was buzzing.  Once he’d disappeared down the hallway, I scootched to the edge of my chair and wheeled it close to Peggy.

“Somebody gave this to me,” I said, referring to my infection.

“I don’t doubt it,” Peggy teased.

“I’m serious,” I looked straight at her.

“So am I,” she said.  “Lots of folks wanna see you drop that story.  Maybe it’s time to back off for a bit.”

“Peggy, our own government would poison me, try to kill me, a member of the press.  Don’t you think that’s fucked up?”

“Look Norah.  It’s totally fucked up.  Now come work on something light with me – like a good old fashioned rampage shooting.” Peggy patted my leg. “Oh my God.  Did that hurt?? I’m so sorry,” she said.

“Actually the sore is on my ass, hun, but it did smart a little.”

We laughed.  “I’m gonna make a quick call,” I said.  “See you in the meeting.”

“I got your back,” Peggy said – meaning I didn’t have to come up with pitches.

I dialed Larry’s number before the elevator doors opened and Larry picked up the phone, just as I stepped outside of the building.

“Hey Norah.  Long time, no hear.  How are you?”

“You know damned well how I am,” I said.  I needed coffee.  I ambled toward the Starbucks across the street.

“Sore?” Larry sounded simultaneously sweet and like he was trying very hard not to laugh.  I couldn’t remember if he’d visited me in the hospital.  Who knew.  Maybe we’d talked on the phone.  Things were blurry.

“Very.  Listen, hun.  I have a question.  Could someone have stuck me with a superbug, a supergerm?  You know, let’s say on the subway?” I asked.

“Norah, does it really matter?” Larry said again, with some kind of empathy.

“Good goddess.  Who cares if it matters??  I want to know.  Yes or no?  Could someone have pricked me with this fucking disease?” I asked.  I realized I should be asking Frank this question, but I thought he might be disappointed about my getting in this deeply.

“Norah, sure.  You know like in the old spy movies – the guy with the needle at the end of his umbrella.  He’d stick you with the disease.  Sure, it’s possible.”

“Like The Penguin in Batman,” I said, somewhat annoyed.

“Sure, like The Penguin,” Larry snickered.

“How else??” I asked, looking at the crystal clear sky on a gorgeous, warm Fall day that I couldn’t appreciate.  I stepped into Starbucks and was glad for the darkness of the shop.

“You ever hear of being schmeared?” Larry asked flatly.  I laughed. He sounded funny speaking Yiddish.

“Uhm, no. What, pray tell, is being schmeared?” I asked.

“Well,” Larry said, “They do it with people that they’re, let’s say, mad at.  You’re in a  hotel room and they come in and paint the toilet seat with something.  You sit on it and the next thing you know, you’ve got radioactive poisoning or something and it gets diagnosed as leukemia.”

“How the fuck would the hotel employees not get sick as well?  Ridiculous.  An entire floor would be glowing.”

I was feeling really dizzy.  Dmitry, my favorite Starbucks guy, was waiting for me to place my order.

“How may I service you?” he said with his adorable, Russian accent.  “Within reason, of course.”

“Larry, I gotta go.  Call you back?” I said.

“Sure Norah.  Feel better.”

“I’m sick,”I said to Dmitry, as I closed my phone.  Dmitry was studying to be  a nurse.  He made the obvious jokes about aspiring to work for a breast surgeon so he could help women with implants one day.  He was from a family of doctors and it was expected of him that he’d enter the medical profession.  I wasn’t asking for advice.  It wasn’t like me to talk about my health to people.  I no longer had control over what came flying out of my mouth.

“So you don’t want the banana chip coffee cake,” he smiled.

“No? Okay.  So coffee and a croissant,” I said.

“Norah, where have you been sweetie?” Dmitry asked, grabbing a coffee cup and filling it up.

“Truly, I’ve been out sick.  Long story,” I said, wishing I could spend the day on a smoke break with Dmitry.

“You’re limping,” he said.  “Are you okay?  You don’t look so good.  Sit down.  I’ll bring you your coffee,” Dmitry said, ringing me up.

“I can’t,” I looked pleadingly at him.  “Don’t laugh. I hurt my ass and I can’t sit.  Can we talk?  Do you have a sec to take a break?  Outside?”

Dmitry’s coworker, Tameka, nodded.   He took off his apron and brought my coffee and croissant with him.  We walked to this plaza between the office buildings that surrounded us.  I leaned on a low wall and winced.

“I’m calling an ambulance in a second, Norah,” Dmitry said, lighting a cigarette.

“No. They can’t fix this.  It just has to heal. I probably came back to work too early,” I said.

Dmitry gave me a crinkly smile and nodded.  “What do you have?”

“Staph.  They say it’s staph, but no antibiotic seems to be working for more than a few days – a week max.  In fact, I don’t think any of them have worked – except the IV Keflex in the hospital,” I said, taking a deep breath.

“All the more reason to go back in,” Dmitry said.

“I could get sicker in there,” I said, taking a sip of my coffee.

“You could get sicker out here, Norah.  I’m not telling you what to do, but you have to see a doctor, an infectious disease guy,” he said.  I raised my eyebrows. “Or girl,” Dmitry grinned.

“Thank you,” I said.

“So the staph went necrotic? Cellulitis?” Dmitry asked.

I nodded.  “It went from a bump to a big-assed hole – if you’ll forgive the innuendos,” I said.

Dmitry groaned.  “Let me help you to your building, at least,” he said, hooking his arm around my back and under my other arm.  I leaned into him and we hobbled over to the station.

“Call me, Norah,” Dmitry said, scribbling his number on a scrap of paper from my croissant bag, as we reached security.

“ID guy,” I said.  “Maybe Frank can recommend somebody,”I muttered.

“Frank?” Dmitry asked.

“Yeh, a germ warfare doc I ran into in the field,” I said.

“I don’t know if you need to go that far,” Dmitry laughed, giving me a gentle hug. “Just try to take care of yourself and find out what this is.  This won’t heal itself.”

“Thanks, babe.  Thanks for calming me down,” I said and I turned around and went through the gates to the studios.

*     *    *

I stood all the way through the morning meeting When it was over,  I approached Don and told him I might have come back prematurely.  He said I’d already been gone almost 2 weeks.  He seemed really annoyed, so I went back to my desk to call Frank and email reporters in search of an ID doctor for me.

Charles Lloyd, a gossip columnist at the Trib had a wife who was a Harvard grad and an internist, specializing in neurology.  Sarah Lloyd was sort of a Moses in the New York City medical community – mentioning her name made the waters part.  She got me an appointment to see an Dr. Andrew Germaine, an infectious disease doctor, the following morning, but I never made it. I was admitted that night to Mount Sinai for another round of IV antibiotics for another week.

I became good friends with Dr. Germaine over the next year.  He found the right antibiotic at the right dosage to kill the staph.  Dr Germain explained that staph morphed the day that penicillin was introduced to it.  It’s a very smart bacteria, apparently.   As soon as we found new forms of penicillin, the staph would become immune.   So Dr. Germaine’s trick was to go back and find a very old version of penicillin that the staph no longer recognized.  It was a bit of a chess game and, thank the goddess,  it worked.

I learned how boil my clothes and linens every day and how to wash myself head to toe with surgical soap a few times daily.   Patrick was not to touch me or my clothes. My ex came in to help a lot.  I ran my apartment like a military infirmary – with the help of encouragement from Dr. Germaine and Frank, who was just glad I hadn’t jumped at the bait.

I worked only sporadically, until one day I finally lost my job.  A few months later, my relationship with Tom also ended.  Six months later, COBRA and unemployment had run out and I was desperate for work.   I had been casting money and road opener spells ever since I’d been laid off and, as always, the gods provided – with a sense of humor and at the last minute.  Snatched from the jaws of poverty, I was offered a job as a researcher at “The Record,” one of the local tabs.   Working behind the scenes for very little money was fine with me – as it was with Jude, apparently, because he called me up to have lunch only a few months after I’d been at “The Record.”

the tunnels – part 14

September 18, 2010

Shakti and I met on the 47th Street platform.  She had this quiet, beaming smile.  Shakti was easy to spot with her golden aura and her sexy, snake skin, spandex pants.  She was wearing a black, sleeveless turtleneck and a broad, black and silver belt around her waist.  She had dark brown, wavy hair that curled around her shoulders.  Shakti was around 15 years older than I was and M used to joke that he wanted a sexy grandma like Shakti. She was very cool.

I waved, scooted over to her and gave her a hug and a peck on the cheek.

“We’ve got to stop meeting like this,” I grinned.

Shakti giggled and radiated some more.  “Have you been here long?” she asked.

“Just got here,” I said.

“Me too.”

The F Train pulled up and we found seats right away.  Shakti wanted to know all about Larry as quickly as possible, because Park Slope was about 20 minutes away.  I tried my  best to explain how the whole thing started – the AA acquaintance, the internet searches, meetings over coffee, the threatening calls, Jude.  Shakti just let me spill, asking very few questions.  When I was finally sure I’d given her a condensed version of everything – including my visit with Joe and Amy – Shakti looked at me intently.

“What does Larry look like again?” she asked.

“Well, you’ll see. He’s big and bulky and he wears a lot of brown and blue.  Like always.  His clothes are loose and he almost looks like he doesn’t fit into his own skin. His eyes roll up in his head a lot and he speaks in a flat tone pretty much – except when he goes kind of James Cagney on me.  He’s a real character. Fasten your seat belt,” I said.

Shakti looked straight at me. “Do you think he could be an alien?” she asked.

I laughed. “Uhm, I’ve never really thought about it. I guess any of us could be.”

“True,” Shakti said and we exited the train.

*        *        *

Larry lived in a building with a wrought iron gate with buzzers on it. He rang us in and then came down to greet us.  Larry came lopping across the courtyard with a big welcome smile.

“Hello, Norah’s friend,” he snorted.

“Larry, this is Shakti. Shakti, Larry,” I said, trying to take his energy level down a notch. He must have had some serious sugar before our arrival.

“Good to meet you, Larry,” Shakti said, taking both of his hands in hers.

“Yeah, same,” Larry said. “Come on. Let me show you the place.”

We took the elevator to the 4th floor and Larry’s apartment was one door to the right.  It was a small, one-bedroom apartment with the kitchen to the left as you entered.  Shakti pointed out voodoo mask on the kitchen wall.  I shrugged. Voodoo was nothing new or scary to me. I’d studied it as part of my wiccan path.

Beyond the darkened kitchen, lay a really crowded living room with institutional green walls.  To the left of the entryway, there was an old fashioned pole lamp with a green, pleated shade. There were bookshelves filled with books and more books were piled all over the place.

“Make yourself at home,” Larry snickered, taking a seat in this pinkish beige armchair that swiveled.  Shakti and I sat on a a small, white and gold upholstered couch.  We had our backs against the wall to the left of the archway, so we had to turn slightly to face Larry who was a little bit to our left and surrounded by junk.

I spotted several books about trains in a glass bookshelf against the right wall.

“My ex would love the train collection,” I said.

“Oh, sure,” Larry said. I collect those at train fairs.”

“I’ve been to them,” I said, happy to make chit chat while I scoped out the room.

“Shakti, what are you interested in?  Maybe I have some books for you to look at,” Larry smiled.

“I’m into white haired men,” she said. “Do you know about those?”

I laughed,  wondering why she’d bring up prospective dates.

“Sure, I know some,” Larry said.

“Where did you meet them?” Shakti asked. I was astounded they were already talking in code.  Apparently, I’d brought the right guest.

“Oh, sure,” Larry said. “I met some a long time ago – when I was in a church for a dance.”  I tried to imagine Larry dancing.  “The strangest thing,” he continued. “They were wearing old, college sweaters with the names of the college in felt letters on the front. You know, like something out of the 30s or 40s – only the guys were really young.”

“I know from this,” Shakti said. “They had white hair?”

“Yeah. They were time travelers. They came to talk to me about trains and trolleys and stuff – ways to help the environment,” Larry said.

“That’s important,” Shakti said.

“Sure,” Larry said – clearly not caring too much.  “So I turned around, because I heard my friend, Jude, coming around the corner. And the next thing I knew, they were gone.”

“I’ve heard about these white haired men,” Shakti said again.

“Are they benevolent?” I asked.

“Yes. They are here to help us,” Shakti said. “It’s pretty rare that they make an appearance.”

We sat in silence for several seconds.

“Well, I certainly didn’t expect that exchange,” I said. Shakti giggled.

“You want something to drink?” Larry asked.

“Water would be great,” I said. Larry got up and ambled to the kitchen.

“This house has bad energy,” Shakti said, once Larry had left the room. “I don’t like it. I think he should throw out that mask. I’ll bet his girlfriend gave it to him.”

“Erika?” I asked.

“Is that her name? The one with the loft?”

“Oy. They probably have this place bugged,” I sighed.

“I don’t care,” Shakti said.

“I like this place,” I said. And I did. I felt comfortable surrounded by books and antiques. I didn’t care that you couldn’t see out the window. “Look down there,” I said, pointing to a pile of dusty frames leaning against a desk on the right side of the room.  “I’ll bet those are the paintings.”

“You scoping things out?” Larry asked, as he handed us water in short, sturdy glasses with gold rims.

“My grandmother had glasses like these,” I said.

“I know,” Larry joked.  I  cracked up.

“So are all of these books yours or do some belong to your mom?” I asked – not knowing where that question came from.

“Oh, they’re from all over,” Larry said. “Funny you should ask, though. Some of them just kind of came to me,” Larry said.  “You know, left outside the door and stuff,” he wheezed.

“Okkaaay,” I said.  “By whom?”

“I’m never really sure,” Larry said mysteriously.  “But the funniest thing happened recently.  Someone left this red covered book outside my door.”  He rummaged through a stack of books on a rectangular, glass coffee table next to him and pulled out an old, red book in fairly good condition.  “Have a look at it,” he said, handing it to me.

It was a book on nuclear physics.  The book looked extremely dense and had a lot of diagrams.  “Bedtime reading?” I teased.

“Sort of,” Larry answered.  “It took me 3 days to get through it and when I finished I got a call from some Russian massage therapist who wanted to come over and discuss the contents, shall we say?”

I gave Shakti a sideways glance and then looked at the floor. I took a deep breath to keep from laughing.

“So she came by? You let a stranger come over and give you a massage?” I asked.

“Sure,” Larry said.  “Anyhow, she was Russian and she asked me about the book while giving me a massage,” he snorted.

“No way,” I said.

“Way,” Larry said.  Shakti laughed.

“I’m jealous,” I said. “What did you think of the book?”

“I don’t think you’d understand it, Norah,” Larry said, pulling himself out of his swivel chair and walking toward the window to a dusty group of paintings leaning against the back wall.

“Now this, ” he said, “This, Norah, might be something you’d understand.” He lifted out 1 tall, rectangular painting and 1 small, horizontally laid out painting.

He handed me the large painting first. I stood it up in front of me.  It had small scenes laid out in an oval.  The scenes seemed to go chronologically counter-clockwise.

“Interpret?” I asked.

“Sure,” he said, “Take your time.”

Shakti looked over my shoulder. At 10 o’clock there was a scene having to do with Egypt.  There were palm trees and pyramids. It looked like a child’s picture book depiction of ancient Egypt – simple and benign.  A group of men, wearing white robes and white keffiyes, were gathered in the foreground.

At 7 o’clock, there was a picture of 2 farmers tending to livestock.  Each scene was painted in sweet, pastel colors.  In this one, a couple were lovingly feeding their farm animals.  Their clothing looked fairly modern.

At 4 o’clock, there was a scene that looked like knights fighting a battle – perhaps the crusades.  The painting was so oddly 2 dimensional.  I’d never seen anything like it.

Finally, at 2 o’clock, there was a depiction of a very sick, young woman who had taken to her bed.  It was unusually emotional compared to the other parts of what I now saw was a print.  Holy people, monks and nuns, tended to the woman.  One nun held a cool rag against the woman’s forehead.

“Masonic,” Shakti breathed, pointing to a handshake depicted outside the sickbed scene.

“A prediction of biowarfare?” I asked, looking up at Larry. “Smallpox?” I said, tracing her arm that made her look like she had measles.

“One possibility,” he said.

“Pretty straight forward,” I said. “This painting looks really old. Turn of the century?” I asked.

“It is. Not too many copies of it left. Not too many in the series to begin with, let’s say.”

“Nice score,” I said.

“I found it at a yard sale,” Larry wheezed, handing me the smaller painting.

This one was a brightly colored lithograph of an old fashioned gas station near some train tracks.  There was a big, round Coca-Cola sign to the right side of the pumps.  In the background and to the left, an African American  man had fallen asleep against the wall of the station itself.  He had a sign next to him that said “watermelons” and there was a cart filled with watermelons in front of him.

“Atlanta?” Shakti guessed, pointing to the Coca-Cola sign.

“Good one,” Larry said.  “There’s actually another painting  of his called ‘A Rainy Night in Georgia.'”

“Good goddess, this is creepy,” I said, feeling a blast of cold air suddenly surrounding us.”What’s with the stereotypes?” I asked, pointing to the watermelon cart.

“You’d have to ask the artist about that one,” Larry said off handedly.

“I think the route 66 sign is significant,” Shakti said.

“I guess,” I shrugged, a bit tired of this series of clues. “I need time to digest all of this,” I said.  Then something clicked. “Rainy night. Are they bringing something up north by train?” I asked. “And does it rain? And does something smell like watermelon?” I asked. “Okay, those were unrelated, but one would want to watch the weather before a nuclear attack.”

“True,” Larry said.

“And I know for a fact that a lot of nerve agents smell fruity, but that’s not important.”

Shakti looked slightly concerned and I couldn’t tell if she thought I’d flipped my lid or if she was worried about the possibility of a nuclear attack.

“Hmmm,” Larry said.

“I’d rather go by nukes,” I said.

“It’s getting late,” Shakti said.”

“Either/or,” Larry said.

“Smallpox wasn’t spread by fleas, Larry,” I said, staring right through him.

“Oh yeah? Tell me Norah. How did it spread?” Larry challenged me back.

“Bed bugs,” I said.

“Well that’s a theory,”  Larry laughed.

“Are you joking? I’ve read papers on it.  And I’m sure your end of the world artists know that too,” I said.  “This is ridiculous.  Read Charles Campbell, if you don’t believe me. They multiply 100 times faster than fleas and they are much more tenacious. I don’t know whose side you’re on, but I will make sure I’m not on the same one.”

“Norah,” Larry said. “There are no sides.”

I took a deep breath. “I don’t think so,” I said. “But you could be right.”

the tunnels – part 13

September 9, 2010

I had to hit the ground running the next day.  There was a young woman in Wisconsin who’d been kidnapped in the parking lot outside the video store where she worked. She’d gotten off work at around 8pm – not terribly late. She was on her cell phone with her boyfriend when she was initially jumped and she stayed on right up until she was thrown into the kidnapper’s car.  Apparently the boyfriend had heard the entire abduction as it took place.

Of course, we were scrambling to get the boyfriend and the girl’s family.  Peggy was trying to book the sheriff and the boyfriend’s uncle, while I called around for stringers in the Wisconsin area until we could get a booker out there ourselves.

“Norah?” Stacy said, poking her head over my cube.  She had new highlights and had just straightened her hair.

“What’s up?” I asked.

“Norah, there’s someone downstairs to see you. Says he’s here for his interview,” she said.

“Name?” I asked. Sometimes she could be so slow.

“I think it was Jude,” she said.

“Good goddess. I don’t have time for this,” I grumbled, searching for my ID and leaving for the lobby. “I’ll be right back. This should be quick,” I said to Peggy. Chattering away with the sheriff’s office, she smiled and waved me off.

I stepped into the large, marble lobby and squinted in search of Jude. I’d left my contacts at home and my glasses upstairs.

“Here I am,” Jude said, as I practically bumped into him.

“What a surprise,” I smiled.

“Yes, I felt I should come say good-bye. May I come with you upstairs?” he asked.

“Dude, I’m working,” I said.

“Dude, I  have to see how you work. Please. I have some more names. I’d love to see your logic,” he said.

I’m not sure what made him irresistible, but I said okay and brought him upstairs to an empty office with a computer. Maybe the flattery had gone to my head. I called Peggy and told her I was interviewing someone for my project. She knew what I meant.

“Show me whatchya got,” I said, ready and logged on to the computer.

“Remember that shell named Fatima? Can we go back to her?” he asked.

I still remembered the address and I threw it into the template. We looked at the house and I clicked on Fatima’s social security number – which was blocked, but still clickable.  Each version of the 3 social security numbers led back to a different name. One of them was this Cheri person.  The other 2 were males.

“Do you have Nexis Level III?” Jude asked.

“Level III?”

“Yes. Public records,” he said flatly.

“Of course we do,” I said, a little miffed by his condescending tone. So the military called it “Level III.” Typical.

“Bring up Cheri Johnson and see what happens,” Jude instructed.

At that time Nexis had very different records from PXA. It was before everything merged. The Cheri Johnson at the Memphis address was also connected to the Austin cell.

“Okay, my head is spinning. Tell me why she is of interest,” I said.

“She’s connected to the cell, but she’s not a terrorist. That’s why,” Jude said over my shoulder.  He was fishing for the connection to the name “Linda.” I immediately regretted having sent him the email. Somehow I knew it wouldn’t be used for good.

“I know what you’re asking me,” I said. “Hire your own friggin psychic.”

Jude laughed.  “You are my psychic.”

“I am no one’s Norah,” I said, paraphrasing a line from the movie, “Elizabeth” that I knew he wouldn’t get it.

“I know. And I know the movie, Norah,” he said.

“I’m sure if I kept on going, her name would be Linda,” I said.

“I’m sure it would.”

“And I’m sure you know quite a lot about her already.”

“He met her in a chatroom,” Jude said.

“She drinks cherry red Mountain Dew and that’s as far as I’m going,” I said firmly. I’d protect Amy to the death. I was sure, however, Jude had her hard drive.

“Norah, you are good,” Jude said.

“If there is a connection, why don’t you shut down the cell?” I said, turning around to face him. I realized how naive that sounded, the moment it flew out of my mouth.

Jude smiled. “We wait and watch,” he said. “Now gray ocean,” he continued.  “How in the hell did you come up with that one?”

“Crystal ball tells all,” I laughed.

“I’m impressed,” Jude said, clearly not entirely believing me.

“What was it?” I asked about the emails. “Terrorist chatter? Were you guys watching them before the attack?” I regretted saying that one too.

“Norah, Norah, Norah,” Jude shook his head. “That is not a nice thing to say.”

“I guess I’m not nice then,” I said. “What was in those emails?”

“If you would reconsider, Norah…” Jude said.

“You are tempting me. Unfair,” I said. Frank’s face loomed large before me.

“I’m glad I am,” Jude said.

“I gotta say no,” I said sadly.

“Okay. I understand,” Jude said.

“I havetah get back to work,” I said, standing up.

“Thank you for working with me,” Jude said.

“Where are you headed? I know it’s not Iraq,” I bluffed.

“Waziristan. They think he’s there,” Jude answered.

“Okay,” I said.  “He’s in a cave with a satellite dish. He shouldn’t be too hard to find,” I quipped.

“Norah, this is serious,” Jude had slipped back into soldier mode.

“Ah, I know. Sorry, Jude, but it’s my job to be flip,” I said.

We stopped in front of the glass doors in front of the elevator bank. Jude turned to me and said, “So your boyfriend is running for judge?”

“He is,” I said. Fair enough. He could snoop.

“We could help him,” Jude said.

“Jude, my love, it’s for New York State Supreme. One runs for that position.  It is not an appointment.”

“Still,” Jude said. “We could help.”

“No thank you,” I said. He was irritating me.

Jude stuck out his hand as a good-bye gesture. I hugged him.

“Stay safe,” I said.

“You too,” he laughed. “Stay out of trouble.”

*    *    *

A few days later, I was in Boston, working on a priest sexual abuse story in which documents had been recently released.  I was trying to see how long the diocese had known about the abuse.  Anyhow, there had been a lot of glitches in the remote and I’d fought a bit with my senior producer, Carlie.  Bobbie had defended me every step of the way and she’d loved my abuse survivor’s interview.  I was just relieved when the segment was over.

As I dressed to go down to the pool for a much needed swim, I kept the TV on to watch the president’s update on Iraq.  I wanted to catch part of it at least.  The speech started and the first thing out his his mouth was that Iraq had a large supply of WMD and that we were hunting them down.  I was slightly taken aback, but I thought it might have been that Jude was privy to some low level briefings in the State Department. I tried to remember the listserv posting and I couldn’t.  I picked up the phone and dialed Larry on his land line.

Larry’s mom picked up. “Hi, Mrs. Goldstein, it’s Norah. Is Larry there?”

“Norah, it’s so good to hear from you,” she said in her shrill voice.  “Larry’s out right now – some Stonewall meeting.”

“Stonewall as in gay rights Stonewall?” I asked.

“Yeah, kind of like that. I don’t think he’s gay or anything. They’re just really  nice to him,” she said.

“That’s cool,” I said. “Would you ask him to call me when he gets back?” I asked.

“Sure, Norah,” Mrs. Goldstein said.

“Great. Thank you so much, Mrs. Goldstein,” I said. I was already logging on to the internet to check out the old email Jude had sent me.  I’d bolded the wording “circumventing the proliferation of WMD” and “proliferation security initiative.” I’d check out the transcript of the speech after a few laps.

The pool was empty and heavy on the chlorine – which permeated not only the water, but all of the air in the warm gym. I needed the bleachy feeling.  There was a fellow leaving the jacuzzi exactly when I was ready to climb out of the pool. I was so tired, I stayed in for only a few minutes. I went back to my room and fell asleep in my suit.

*   *   *

“Larry, what Jude sent me was in the president’s speech last night,” I said, making a final call before packing up and heading back to New York.

“Isn’t it funny when that happens?” Larry snickered.

“I guess. Anything else you want to tell me?” I asked.

“Yeah, but not over the phone. Can you come over when you get back home?” he asked.

“Uhm, what do you mean, come over?” I asked.

“You know, to my place. In Brooklyn.”

“I thought you gave up your place in Brooklyn,” I said.

“Oh, this is my place in Park Slope,” he said flatly, as if he’d already told me that.

“You never told me that you had a place in the Slope.  I make it a rule never to come to someone’s home alone,” I said.

“So bring someone,” Larry snorted.  “I need to show you some things.  You know, books, paintings.  I have a whole bunch of stuff, but mainly I think you’ll like this one painting,” he said.

“What kind of painting, Larry?”

“The kind you might want to interpret,” he answered.

“Okay if I bring my best friend?” I asked, thinking my catholic/buddhist friend, Shakti, might get a kick out of this guy.

“Anyone you’d like,” Larry wheezed.

“I’ll be back tomorrow and I have Friday off. How’s Friday afternoon?” I asked.

“Saturday’s better,” Larry said.

“Okay, Saturday then.” Patrick was with his dad that weekend and it would give me a day to prepare.

the tunnels – part 12

August 17, 2010

Bobbie and Don gave me the day to work on what had gone far beyond a tunnel story, but how could I explain all that had happened?  I took the morning to review my old printouts of data that had been removed when I was working on a story at NCC. Then I went to wash the breakfast dishes and make some more coffee.

Joe and I went back a long way. He’d worked at as many public records companies as I had news outlets.  Rumor had it he came from an intel family.  I didn’t really care. We were kindred spirits – outlaws who had a love for data.  I was all about freedom of speech. He was all about hacking. I was looking forward to lunch.

My cell rang. It was Larry. Were they now reading my thoughts?

“Hey Larry, what’s up?”

“Hey, Norah. He’s sending you something,” Larry said. “You may not understand it at first, but you will in a couple of days.  That’s the way it works, if you know what I mean,” Larry wheezed.

“No, actually, I don’t know, but I’ll take your word for it,” I said, rolling my eyes.

“It’s like this. We send you stuff and a couple of days later you see it on TV,” Larry said.

This guy was definitely off his meds. “Okay, Larry. I’ll look for it. I promise,” I said.

“You home today?” Larry asked.

At this point, it didn’t matter how they knew. “Yes, I am,” I said patiently.

“That’s nice,” Larry said. “You could use a break. I hope you’re relaxing.”

“Yes, I’m relaxing, but I should tidy up a bit now, as long as I have a little time. You know, do the dishes, sweep,” I said as a little f. you to their ridiculous spying.

“Well, I just wanted you to know it’s coming your way,” Larry wheezed.

“Thanks, babe. Let’s talk soon,” I said, turning on the faucet over the sink.  I hung up and put the phone on vibrate. I was starved. I made myself coffee and an open faced grilled cheese on an english muffin.  Sandwich and coffee in hand, I settled down on the couch and started to reread Amy’s story. Like my piece, she’d written on an in depth level about just how unprepared we were to respond to a bio attack.  She also focused on first responders. I wondered if this was why Joe was hooking us up.

I checked my email one last time before leaving the house and there was something from the State Department waiting for me. Jude’s name was nowhere on it. It was simply an email from a State Department listserv – as if I had subscribed to the listserv.  It looked like a memo pertaining to an upcoming policy – regarding the proliferation of weapons of mass destruction.  The term WMD had not become part of our every day vocabulary at that point in time. I couldn’t figure out why he’d sent this to me, but I could ask questions later. One thing I knew was that Jude was either a great hacker or someone with access to the State Department email – or both.

*   *   *

Bloom’s was a restaurant near the West Side Highway and, for once, I was on time.  Inside it was spacious and loft-like with deep, burnt orange colored walls and wooden ceiling fans.  Joe and Amy were relaxing over drinks at a table in the middle of this vast, empty hideaway. I smiled and made my way over to them.

Joe stood up and I hugged him.  “Great to see you,” I said.

I  kissed Amy on the cheek and sat down next to her – so we were both facing Joe. “How have you been, Amy?  It’s been forever. You’re married now?” I asked .

“I am married,” she laughed. “So I don’t have to work as much. I’m writing magazine pieces now.  And you?” she said in her adorable upper class way that belied her print reporter background.

Amy had this amazing reporting style.  She’d ask questions super politely – all giggles and smiles.  Then, if she got the runaround from her interviewee, she’d do a 180 and start threatening the person or institution with exposing facts about them.  I’d once witnessed her jumping down the throat of a landlord, when he’d claimed he didn’t own a building where there’d been a fire. Not someone you’d want to lie to, at any rate.

“Hmmmm.  Other than being obsessed with this crazy story that’s lead me from tunnels to germ warfare, I’m doin’ pretty well,” I said, getting right down to business.

The waiter came and I ordered a seltzer with lime. Then I changed it to a gingerale.

“So, Joe, what’s new with you?” I asked.

“Funny you should ask,”he laughed. “Yes, your friends are living with me as well. And, it’s quite uncomfortable.”

“Since? How long have they been crashing at your place?” I asked.

Amy simply watched.

“Since right after everything happened. Pretty much the day after. Remember when we asked you to help out in the morgue?” he asked.

“I do,” I said. Joe had tried to get me clearance to help find families of the people who’d lost their lives in the attack on the Trade Center.  Although my intentions were pure, I was naturally turned down because of my press status.  It was immediately after the attacks.

“Well, from then on,” he looked up at me and raised his eyebrows as if to say, “help.”

“Round the clock?” I asked.

“Pretty much,” Joe said.

“Wow. Okaaay. So you were talking about new databases,” I said, switching the subject.

“Norah you want another gingerale? Amy, can I get you a glass of wine?” Joe asked.

“Love it,” Amy smiled.

Joe ordered our drinks and got a beer for himself.

“Okay. How about these new databases?” I asked. Amy watched me carefully.

“We have been lifting names, as you know,” he started. “Basically we’re taking Arab names that seem to have cell connections and we’re throwing them into a database.”

“For whom?” I was a little surprised, because Joe’s outfit was not like this. They were all about free flowing information and I was a data surfer.  They often picked brains, as I was someone who knew the user end of things very well.  I was a kind of guinea pig for roll outs.

“It’s called TCL,” Joe said, ignoring my question about the client. “We haven’t launched it yet, but when we do, I’ll let you guys know.”

“Yikes,” I said. “Rounding up Arab names? That’s like singling out Jewish names. I no like,” I said, as the waiter put down our drinks. I shouldn’t have ordered more sugar. I asked the waiter for water to pace myself.

“I like it,” Amy said. “I’m all for it. Hell, put every Arab name in it. I’d feel safer.”

I wasn’t sure if she was kidding.

“What’s the TCL stand for?” I asked.

“Terrorist Connection Likelihood,” Joe answered.

“Interesting,” I said, wondering if we’d all lost our minds post 9/11. This was my best programming friend and a reporter I’d teamed up with on major investigative pieces. “What else ya got?” I joked.

“Norah, you would be so amazed. You’ve heard about supercomputers?” Joe asked.

I looked straight at him.  “Do tell,” I smiled.

“They are nuclear powered computers and law enforcement is just starting to roll them out. You touch a button and someone’s mugshot pops up on the screen, along with their assets – you know, cars, homes; and  their criminal records.

“Beautiful,” I breathed. “Can you take me to see it?”

“They’re not rolled out yet, babe,” he said.

“And?” I pushed.

Joe laughed. “Norah, you are still a member of the press. Try to remember that.”

“Good goddess, you can trust me,” I said.

“Riiight,” Amy smiled.

“Thanks Amy. You’re really helping me out here,” I laughed.

“It’s my job,” Amy winked.

“So what have you been up to?” I asked, taking a sip of my soda.

“Well, we have some things in common, I’d say,” Amy started. “I was stonewalled at the Trib on a story I was working on – also a never-ending cell saga.  I worked on it for several months and they suddenly didn’t want it anymore. I mean, it was colorful stuff,” she said a little sadly.

“Where was the cell?” I asked.

“Tennessee,” she said without batting an eye.

“You’re joking,” I said. “Dude, I need a Shirley Temple next round,” I said to Joe, who was sitting back, watching us compare notes. “Okay, continue,” I said to Amy.

“It all started out with an IM,” Amy said.  “A woman from Memphis instant messaged me – don’t ask – who knows how she got my email, but it’s out there.  Anyhow, she IMed me and said she had had sex with some of the hijackers.  She said she’d met them in an online chatroom and that she’d let them live with her the couple of months before the attacks.  As far as I knew, there were no Tennessee connections,” Amy said.

“I’m with ya,” I said.  “So you called her?”

“Not at first,” Amy continued. “But I was cool with that. It meant I could save our conversations.  Anyhow, she wanted me to know that the whole virgins thing was b.s. You know, jilted woman stuff. And on top of that, she wanted me to come visit her. There was something, some bit of evidence they’d left in her home. She didn’t feel safe discussing it with me online or over the phone – we had progressed to phone conversations at that point.”

“So you visited her?” I asked – somewhat surprised she’d follow someone she’d met on the web.

“I did. I had the paper’s blessing. They give me Marc Rubenstein.” Marc was one of the best shooters the Trib had. “We drove up to her place and I was actually surprised at just how white trash it was – you know, tires on the front lawn, a refrigerator on the front porch,” she smiled, knowing she’d get a laugh out of me.

“‘I get the picture,” I said.

“Anyhow, Marc and I roll up and she comes to the door. She was drinking one of those red Mountain Dew drinks. I’ll never forget. She was pounding them back,” Amy continued.

“Was she, by any chance, a chubby blond in brown shorts?” I asked.

“I don’t remember what she was wearing, but, yes, she was a chubby blond with some missing teeth.” Amy took my psychic abilities in stride and I appreciated that.

“So she takes us upstairs and it’s a bit of a flop house – mattresses on the floors. Laptops scattered around. I was thinking about internet dating and how classic this was,” Amy said. I cracked up. “She’d actually saved her chats with the hijackers,” Amy went on. “She let us take screen shots.  I decided to push it and I asked if we could copy her hard drive. I couldn’t believe it, but she agreed,” Amy exhaled.

“So while we were doing that, she told us why she’d actually asked us to come out.  She pulled out this road atlas that was turned to a map of DC.  They’d circled the capitol. Obviously, that wasn’t proof, but something inside of me felt she was telling the truth.”

“She showed me some of their emails to her,” Amy said. “Of course, she said she’d peeked at their emails a few times. They were written in code, basically. I didn’t have the time to look very carefully at them.  She forwarded some to herself at the time, because she felt something wasn’t right. I asked her to forward them to me and she did.”

“So you still have those emails?  What was in them?”

“I looked at them briefly when we got back home. And I can’t remember much – other than that the return address was gray ocean,” Amy said.

“And her name?” I asked.

“It was Linda,” Amy answered.

I took a deep breath. “Imagine that,” I said. “I was thinking it might be Linda.”

Amy shrugged. “Anyhow, we never got around to publishing the story. It was basically killed due to national security issues,” she said. “The Trib confiscated my laptop.”

“And you?” I asked. “Did they fire you?”

“Yes, they did,” Amy answered.

Joe’s work was done. I could see him leaning back in his chair.  His arms were crossed and he had a slight smile on his face.

the tunnels – part 11

July 31, 2010

We were running an evergreen, because Bobbie was taking a long weekend to be with her family.  I caught up on expenses, time sheets, paperwork, filing – not my favorite thing,  but a girl’s gotta eat.

When my desk was relatively clear, I checked my email to see if Jude had sent me the names yet. Sure enough, there was an email that looked like spam. The subject line said, “Big Cash. Big Prizes.” It was from jude@fuckingworldwideweb.com.  I googled “fuckingworldwideweb” and it came back to a site that provided anonymous mailboxes that bounced off your free floating email accounts. It put the person only slightly under the radar.  For sure, Jude had better tools. He was going for the laugh.

“I like your email address,” he’d written. “Very cloak and dagger.” My address was archivist3030@yahoo.com.

“Haha,” I replied. “Coming from you, that’s a compliment. Proof, please. By the way, when we were eating, I saw a very tall, broad shouldered fellow with gray hair.  He was in uniform and looked very WWII. He was definitely protecting you – like a dad. Then I saw, over and over again, an ace of spades today. Have a good day. And proof, please.”

To my surprise, Jude was online. “Did you like my address?” he asked.  “Here are the the individuals I was talking about. I will send you proof in a bit. Funny you should bring up spades, because all day long, I have been muttering ‘A spade is a spade is a spade.'”

“Yes, your email address is hilarious and very mature,” I wrote back. “I will look at the names and send you stuff as soon as I know who you are.”

“Later today,” Jude wrote.

Good goddess, I thought. This guy was now sending me telepathic messages. They were so low level.  The man in uniform was probably his dad or a grandfather. I would check it out in my crystal ball when I got home.

It was around 1p and I wanted to get back to Patrick who would be out of school in a couple of hours. I couldn’t resist throwing one of Jude’s names into my databases. I took the strangest one – a 49 year old male in Memphis, Tennessee. The terror cells I’d researched typically operated out of a few, predictable cities – New York, Del Ray Beach, Florida, Austin, TX, Dearborn, MI, San Diego, CA – large cities with large ethnic communities, that afforded anonymity.  I’d never seen Tennessee and certainly never Memphis. A cell near Graceland. That was a first.

Ahmed El-Habak was a middle aged man living in the middle of a cell matrix.  His public records went back to the early 1980s. This, too, was unusual. The men and women typically involved in terror cells were in their early to mid 20s and had arrived in this country post 1993.  I ran his name through professional license databases. I saw he had a pilot’s license.  I scanned my personal database for the names in his report – no immediate hits.  Then I spotted a 103 year old, female relative in his home. A 103 year old terrorist – another first. Jude sent me a second email filled with questions about our guy.

I was exhausted and I wanted to play with Patrick. I sent Jude what I had on El-Habak so far and  told him I’d check things out later in the day.  Then I left for an afternoon in the park with my son.

*     *     *

I rarely worked on weekends, but this was too tempting. That night Tom was in London on a trip with his kids.  Patrick was asleep and I was restless. I made a cup of Sleepy Time tea, curled up on the couch in my room and opened my laptop. I dialed into our network and opened Outlook. Jude had written.

“Now if I had anything to say about it, I wouldn’t let Fatima drive,” he started, referring to our 103 year old cell member. I laughed. “And how about that Abdul?” he continued. “Looks like he might be able to take off.”

I took Abdul’s name and ran it through the FAA’s airmen’s registry. So he could fly a single engine plane. This did not alarm me.  There was no Saudi connection in the paperwork – as I’d seen with some of the 9/11 hijackers.

I went back to the email. “Which sequence do you like better – 4112 or 2853?” he wrote, jumbling a couple of house numbers for El-Habak’s addresses in Memphis and Austin, TX.

“And what about Cheri?” he wrote. “Is that a sexy name for a woman or should I forget about her?”

Okay, I would play. I input the addresses into my database. I got a hit with an Austin cell. I took a breath. I needed to decide if I’d give him the hit.  I definitely needed a second cup of Sleepy Time, but first I needed to check out the Memphis house in the astral.

I cast circle and called in the archangels for protection. To keep dark energies away, I passed sage and dragon’s blood over my altar and my beloved crystal ball.  I took out my black mirror and did the same. Then I took some white sage, put it in an abalone shell and saged my aura, paying close attention to my heart, throat and crown chakras. I passed it over my altar again and throughout the apartment.  I returned to my room and I sat in my usual chair with my crystal ball on a small table in front of me.  I centered, grounded and protected myself.

I started to gaze and, at first, I felt Jude and Larry. I had to get past them. I kept gazing and I saw a small, white house in Memphis.  I knew it was Memphis, because of the flash on my third eye of Graceland.  Sometimes spirits are funny with their symbolism.  It looked like a flop house almost. Inside there were mattresses on the floors, laptops strewn in bedrooms.  In a ramshackle kitchen, I saw a pudgy, blond woman in a coral tank top and brown shorts. She was drinking orange soda out of a can. I wondered why they were showing me her.  I wondered if that was Cheri. I got a “no” from my guides.

“I need names. Come on, names please,” I coaxed the spirits and my crystal ball.

“Linda,” they said.

“Cell member?” I asked. I felt a “yes.”

I continued my tour of the house.  I saw a laptop in a room with cocoa walls. It was on a banged up desk and someone’s yahoo account was on the screen. I looked closely for the email address. It said, “grayocean.”

I was getting tired. I hugged my crystal ball and put it away. I was too exhausted to work with the black mirror. One tool at a time.

*     *    *

“I think Fatima is only in your dreams,” I wrote back to Jude on Monday morning. I’d come in early to write back to him.  I took a sip of coffee. I’d determined that Fatima was a shell of a person – someone who existed only in public records, not an actual human being.  Sometimes these phantoms hide who really lives in the home, as they make the a place look like a bunch of relatives living together.

“Abdul certainly can take off, but I’m not as bothered by his ability to spread his wings as I am about his farming skills.”  I inserted a link to a Kentucky crop dusting license for Abdul.  I’d found it very early that morning. Sometimes being bleary helps.

“Cheri is a very sexy name, but I think Linda is hotter,” I continued. “What can you tell me about grayocean?” I figured that would either knock his socks off or he’d bluff or both.

I picked up the phone to call one of the techies I thought might have unavoidably turned me in.  Joe answered on the second ring. I was surprised. I thought he’d try to dodge my calls.

“Hey, Norah. How are you?” he asked.  I could practically hear him smiling on the other end.

“Joe, I’m great.  How are you doing?  What have you been up to?”

“I’m great. Business is good,” he said.

“Look, Joe, I’m just gonna cut to the chase here,” I said.

Joe laughed. “Okay, Norah – like you could do it any other way,” he said with his South Philly accent that I found so comforting.

“Okay, some of your friends have been visiting me. Frequently. I’m just wondering if they live with you,” I ventured.

“Hmmm.”

“I’ll take that as a ‘yes,'” I said. “Can we meet?”

“I’m in the city tomorrow,” Joe said cheerfully. “How about that restaurant we usually hit. You know, on the river.”

There was a place in Tribeca we liked to visit – airy and usually empty on weekdays.

“That’d be great. I’d love to talk databases with you,” I smiled.

“We have some new toys, Norah. You guys would definitely love them.”

“Don’t tease me,” I said. “Can we use them or are they just for law enforcement?”

“We’ll talk tomorrow,” Joe said.  “Oh, do you know Amy Levin from your days at the Trib, by any chance?”

“Are you joking? Of course, I do. She’s been writing some amazing freelance stuff on preparedness since she left the Trib. I loved her last article on bio warfare that ran in the ‘Voice,'” I said.  I had always enjoyed collaborating with Amy and she’d recently sent me a link to her story – after seeing my chemical warfare piece.

“Well, I might ask her to join us,” Joe said. “Okay with you?”

“As long as one of you picks up the tab,” I quipped.

“Not a problem,” Joe said. “Can you make it around 2?”

“I should be able to get away. I’ll call if there’s a problem,” I said.

“See you tomorrow, hun,” he said.

the tunnels – part 10

June 27, 2010

I was glad to have 24 hours before meeting Jude and Larry at Madame X.  Patrick was asleep so I finally had time to cast a spell.  I gathered my supplies – athame, charcoal, dragon’s blood and sage to cast circle and cleanse the space.  I placed them on the kitchen table.

I pulled out the oils and other ingredients and set them aside. I chose a blue candle for justice and protection. Blue stood for Jupiter, the king of all the gods, god of justice. Blue was also the color for Blue Tara, an aspect of Tara,  the Tibetan goddess of 21 faces.  Blue Tara is a fierce protectress.  She would keep the government’s hands away from my neck.

First I lit a piece of charcoal and placed it in an incense burner.  On top of the charcoal, I put a bits of dragon’s blood, a resin that smells like frankincense and chases away bad spirits.  It is said, that if you are a true witch you love the smell.  I saged myself and the apartment. Patrick was used to these smells.  I wondered if they would smell like home to him one day.

Using my athame, I cut the air and welcomed in the 4 directions. I cast circle, creating a protected and sacred space to worship the god and goddess.

On one side of the candle, I carved the sword of Jupiter, the sword of justice and good fortune.  Above the sword, I carved the sun, while I asked the CEO of the gods to please shine his just light on my situation. On the other side of the candle, I drew a sigil representing Blue Tara. I begged her to keep my opponents at bay.

I whispered my rhyming petition to Jupiter. I felt a great love for him and I expressed my gratitude for his generosity. Then I chanted to Blue Tara, my divine protectress and mother.

“Supreme and noble Blue Tara, protect us from all fears and suffering,” I chanted in English.

I anointed the Jupiter side with heliotrope, the oil of court cases and justice.  I spread patchouli on Blue Tara’s symbol.  At the bottom of  the glass container for the 7 day candle,  I poured ingredients to feed  the god and goddess – iron filings for Jupiter and Tara, dragon’s blood for Blue Tara alone and incense I’d made with heliotrope for Jupiter.

I kept my oils in a small, wooden trunk that was probably once a toy chest. I knelt in front of this makeshift altar next to the kitchen table and I blessed the candle in Hebrew – a cabbalistic, Wiccan tradition.

“Jupiter,” I said, envisioning me at dinner, tag teamed by Larry and Jude. “Please give your daughter the strength to serve you. Let me speak the truth.” I lit the candle and a saw a light, like a klieg, going straight through me – from the ceiling to the floor, from sky to earth.  “As above, so below,” I said quietly. “And it be thy will, so mote it be done.”

I chanted to Blue Tara again, asking for the courage to hold my own.  After I cleaned things up, I placed my justice candle on the altar in my room – separate from all the rest.

*     *    *

Madame X was a luxurious bar/restaurant on Houston Street.  It looked like a sensuous, old-fashioned brothel.  The restaurant had deep, red lighting – inside and out –  and comfy, luxurious red and gold furniture.  They always had a show of erotic paintings or photographs on the walls.  This month it was airbrushed bondage paintings.

I went down the couple of steps to the bar area.  I smiled at the bartender, Marta. I knew her from the old days. I gave her a wink and took her hand.

“Hey, stranger.  How’ve you been, Norah??” She was German with auburn  hair that she was wearing in a braid that night.

“I’ve been great, baby. Really. You?” I asked.

Marta smiled and shrugged.  “You want something? It’s on me.”

“Diet Coke? I’d love a Diet Coke.”

“Okay.” Marta didn’t question me, as she started to fill a glass with ice.

“Actually I’m here to see a couple of guys,” I said, forcing a tip on her. “Maybe they’re here already. A big, white guy with a wheezy laugh and eyes that roll up in his head and a slight, skinny, white guy who wears baggy suits and has a crew cut,” I said.

“Attractive sounding,” Marta smiled.

“Yeah, it’s for a story. What can I say?”

“Go and have a look upstairs. You can take your drink with you, sweetie,” Marta said. “Come back soon so we can catch up.”

“Definitely,” I said, leaning over and pecking her on the cheek.

I scanned the bar – no Larry or Jude in sight.  The staircase was at the back of the restaurant. I made my way past the cozy, red lit booths. Upstairs was more dimly lit and there were spotlights on the paintings.  I found Larry and Jude sitting at a table with their backs to a painting of a woman in a latex corsette.  It was a rear view of her, crouched with her hands tied behind her back.

“Subtle,” I said, acknowledging the piece.

“We thought you’d like it,” Jude smiled.

“Whatever. Hey, Larry.”

“Norah, glad you could make it,” Larry said.

“How are you 2?” I asked, sitting down with my drink.

“Pretty good,” Jude answered. He seemed a little buzzed.

“Norah, you want something to eat? We got an appetizer, croute d’ete,” Larry snorted.

“Oh, you’ve gone all healthy on me,” I laughed.  “Let me check out the menu,” I said, picking up the one close to Larry.  I saw some gourmet type sliders. I figured we could share them.

“So, Norah,” Jude started, when I closed the menu. “Do you have any idea of how much trouble we’re in because of you?” He was definitely feeling no pain.

“I’m getting sliders.  That okay with you guys?”

“Great. That’s great, Norah,” Larry said.

“Jude,” I turned my gaze toward him. “We’ve been through this already. I got no one into trouble.  Larry and I started talking with each other a couple of months ago. We became close – and apparently you didn’t like it.”

“It’s not just I who didn’t like it, Norah – as you must know by now,” Jude said.

“Okay, so this is why we’re having appetizers in a pseudo whorehouse? Because you want to slap my patties?  Okay, my bad. Why do you really want me here?” I asked.

Jude smiled. “Are you through?” he asked.

“I am,” I said.

The waiter came by and I ordered the sliders and another Diet Coke.

“We’re proposing you help us, Norah,” Jude said.  “You have a reputation for being great with data mining.”

I raised my eyebrows. “And what is data mining?” I asked.

Larry stepped in. “It’s being able to crunch public records, Norah,” he said. “You know.  Let’s say, like your terrorist database.”

“Whatever,” I said. “I’m not going there with you guys.”

“Not even as a little test?” Jude asked. “I could send you some names you might recognize.”

“Hmmm. Like what kind of names?” I asked.

“Remember when you got upset because the feds removed names from PXA? Remember the records were there one second and gone the next?”

“Good goddess. What? Were you following my keystrokes?”

“You don’t remember faxing the evidence over to your friends?” Jude asked.

When I was mapping out terrorist cells for an investigative story at NCC, I was frustrated with the way names were disappearing.  I took to printing the pages out as proof that they existed.  I faxed the pages to the techies at PXA – a public records database that reporters often use.  They said they didn’t know what was going on – so I found a way to circumvent the removal of the names.  Instead of doing a straightforward name or address search, I slugged 2 very different items into the template.  I typed in the phone number and social security number and a full record would pop up out of the blue.  I later learned these were called “pointers” or ways to get to information that eludes you.

“Don’t tell me the techies turned me in,” I said.

“Let’s just say, after the attacks, we moved into their offices,” Larry said.

“Okay, I’ll bite. What are the names?” I asked.

“I’ll send you a few,” Jude said, as the waiter served the sliders and our drinks.

“You guys eat meat, right?” I asked.

“Norah, I’m going to send you some names and the subject heading will be, ‘Big Cash; Big Prizes.'” Jude said, grabbing the wasabi- topped slider.  “We lost the guys I’m sending you. I have a hunch you’ll be able to find them.”

“How about you prove to me who you guys are first – and I mean, more than the ephemerous Trilateral Commission. I’m assuming they don’t have a website,” I said, grabbing the blue cheese slider.

“Okay,” said Jude. “How about I send you something from my work email? Something that’ll foretell the future.” He winked at me.

Larry snickered.  “Norah is against the war in Iraq,” Larry said, taking the plain and cheddar sliders.

“Hmmm. I wonder what makes you say that,” I grinned. “Larry tells me you are on your way there this week,” I said, looking at Jude.

“Next week,” Jude corrected me. “Why are you against it, Norah, and is CAB aware of this?”

“Well, first of all, as a citizen, I’m entitled to my opinions over dinner.  They do not affect my stories.  My EP has the ultimate say.  And secondly, we entered the war for no reason at all. Saddam Hussein did not launch the attacks on 9/11.  Al Qaeda, headed by Osama Bin Laden, did.  Capturing Saddam will do nothing,” I said.

“Oh, I don’t know,” Larry snorted.  “It might be kind of a morale booster. You know, like a deer’s head mounted on a wall?”

“Does nothing for me,” I said. “I think we’re in it for the oil.”

“Well, at least we agree on that,” Jude said.

“What?” I asked, surprised that Jude was copping to the oil motive.

“Norah, we have soldiers protecting our oil fields over there. Our country would come to a standstill without oil.  Can you imagine? How would we get around without cars?” Jude asked emphatically.

“Uhm, I don’t know. How about putting the war money into developing alternative fuels? Alternative energy? Solar energy? Hybrid cars? Just a few suggestions.”

Larry, who’d been sitting back watching our back and forth, said with some sadness, “There isn’t enough time. We need to ween ourselves off the oil. The cars won’t be ready soon enough. ”

“Here’s the problem, Norah. We’re on a collision course,” Jude said, crossing his arms straight out in front of him – showing me the intersection of our dependence on oil and the speed at which we were pursuing other forms of energy.

“We need to stave off that collision, buy ourselves a little time.  And that is why we are in Iraq protecting our oil fields.

“Oy,” was all I could say.

“We do have a great source we’re pursuing,” Larry said, looking over to Jude for permission to go into his topic. Jude nodded.  “We’ve been experimenting with antimatter. Do you know what that is?”

“Nope.  Talk to  me,” I said.

“Well, our world is made up of matter,” Larry started. “And matter is made up of atoms.  Antimatter is made of atoms that are basically the mirror image of the atoms that make up matter.”

“So it’s like a black hole?” I asked.

“Sort of,” Larry said. “Actually antimatter comes from black holes.  Stars are made up of antimatter.”

“Every man and every woman is a star,” I muttered.

“What’s that?” Jude asked.

“Nothing,” I said. “It’s part of a wiccan text,” I answered. “So how is antimatter going to help our energy problems?” I asked.

“When it collides with matter — boom!” Larry said, clapping his hands together.

“A lot of energy?” I laughed.

“Yeh, we’re working on harnessing it, on creating it.  Just a little more time and we’ll eventually not be dependent on oil anymore.”

“Will it power trains and cars?” I asked.

“Probably not,” Larry looked down.

“Okay, Let’s get the check?” I asked.

I called a meeting with Bobbie and Don a few days after my Jude encounter.  I said I wanted to update them on my tunnel story.

It was  bright, hazy day and Bobbie was sitting at her big, oak desk with the light streaming in behind her.  It looked a little like the other side.

“Hey, sweetie,” she said, walking around to the front of her desk.  “Don’s going to come in in a minute. Have a seat.  Can I get you anything?” she asked, pulling a bottle of water out of her mini fridge.

“You wouldn’t have anything with caffeine in there by any chance?” I asked. Bobbie was a health nut.

“Haha, Norah.  No, I wouldn’t. Perier?” she asked.

“Haha, Bobbie.” I made a face.

Don knocked and walked in. I don’t know why he bothered knocking.

“Don, Norah and I were just getting settled. Water?” Bobbie asked.

“No thanks,” Don said. As always, he seemed in a hurry. We sat down in a semi circle.

“So how’s the piece coming together, Norah?” Don asked.

“Well, not so well, guys, but I’d like a chance to continue,” I answered.

Bobbie raised her eyebrows.  She and Don were used to hearing “great” out of me, but I just couldn’t b.s.

“Yeah, I’ve met with a lot of resistance, let’s say, Bobbie – i.e. death threats at the start of my research.  I didn’t realize it would –”

“Death threats? I don’t like that,” Bobbie said, like a concerned mother.

“It’s weird,” I continued. “I guess it goes against the Patriot Act to look into the tunnels under New York City. Hell, maybe I should drop it,” I said.

“The Patriot Act?” Don asked in disbelief.

“My first week into this, someone left a few minutes of machine gun fire on my home voice mail.  Lookit, I’m still curious, but it’s like hitting a brick wall. I’ve talked to 2 intel guys.  They warned me to stop the story, because the tunnels are supposed to be used to evacuate a select set of people from New York in the event of an attack.  There’s another scenario, but I can’t go into that right now,” I said as an aside.

“You need more time?” Don asked.

“I do,” I said.

“We got your back, Norah,” Bobbie said. “Really. Anything you need. If anyone threatens you again, we’ll get you security at home. Do you feel safe right now?”

“I do,” I said.

“Great,” Don said, standing up from his chair.  “Norah, you still have that miner rescue segment,” Don reminded me.

“I’ll make calls in a few. I promise,” I answered, as he made his way out the door. I needed to speak to Bobbie alone for a second.

“Okay, Norah, what’s up?” Bobbie asked as soon as Don was out of earshot.

“Bobbie, this guy I’ve been talking to –”

“Larry?” she asked.

“How’d you know his name?” I was getting jumpy.

“Norah, you told me.”

“Oh, okay,” I sighed. “Anyhow, he hooked me up with this intel guy and the guy is a real prick,” I said.

Bobbie laughed. “Don’t hold back, Norah. Tell me what you really feel.”

“Seriously,” I said.  “He said the tunnels were to be used to store bodies in in the event of a bio attack. He tried to scare me away from New York by saying biowarfare was inevitable and that if I were smart, I’d take my son and move far away from here.  He said that the bubonic plague was a real threat.”

“You told him about Patrick??”

“No, he knew I had a kid.  Maybe Larry told him.” Now I was being the calm one. “Bobbie, my gut tells me he’s trying to keep me away for other reasons.”

“Why don’t you call Frank?” Bobbie asked. “He worked for the Army. Right?”

I gave Bobbie a huge smile. “I love you,” I said.

“Anytime,” Bobbie winked.

The miner segment would have to wait.  I darted back to my desk and looked to see if Frank was online. He wasn’t – so I called. As usual, it took almost 20 rings for him to get to the phone. I was so happy when he picked up.

“Frank, it’s Norah,” I said.

“Norah, it’s great to hear from you.” Frank sounded genuinely pleased.  “What can I do for you? I’m sure something’s going on.”

“Oy, I don’t know where to start,” I said.

“Hmmm.  You’re in over your head?” he guessed.

“Sort of,” I said. “I started doing this piece on the tunnels under New York City and the next thing I know it turns into a germ warfare story.”

“Sounds about right to me,” Frank said.

“Okay, so as you can imagine, I ruffled some feathers – unintentionally, of course,” I said, appreciating that I could talk to Frank almost in shorthand.

“What did they say the tunnels were for?” Frank asked.

“Good question,” I said. “This Air Force fellow claims they are to be used to evacuate a few select people from New York.  These are large passageways, Frank.  You could actually travel all the way from the Upper East Side to Croton – an extremely northern suburb on the Hudson.  It’s an abandoned water tunnel and it’d be an awesome escape route.”

“Norah, sounds like a contingency plan. Did he talk to you about other possibilities?”

“Yeah,'” I said, suddenly realizing this was a military strategy. “As a matter of fact, he did. He talked about using them as storage for people dying from a bio attack – which is why I’m calling you.”

“Okay,” he said.

“What are the odds that terrorists would use the bubonic plague as an attack method? This guy talked about the plague. How effective could that be and how would someone weaponize it?”

Frank laughed at my litany of questions. “Well, first of all, it’d be very difficult to disperse,” he said started. “You’d need to drop a really heavy bomb and that bomb would effect only a 3 block radius or so. It would require a 3 engine plane at least. It’s very unlikely they’d use the bubonic plague, Norah.”

“You could kill more people with anthrax in an envelope,” I said.  “So they were lying to me.”

“Either that or they don’t know what they’re talking about,” Frank said in teacher mode.

“Okay, I’ll opt for lying,” I said.

Frank laughed. “As long as you’re looking at abandoned water tunnels you might want to think about our water supplies’ being attacked,” Frank said.

“I’ve thought about that a lot, actually,” I said. “When I was at NCC, I made a database of cells all over the U.S. A few of the guys in those cells had licenses for water distribution.”

“Guard that database, Norah,” Frank said.

“Yeah, I will.”

“Smallpox is the most effective germ agent, by the way,” he said, switching gears.  “There’s a great ‘New Yorker’ article on it from the 90s, I believe,” he said.

“You read ‘The New Yorker’??” I teased.

“Sometimes,” he said with a twinkle. “When it interests me. We don’t have a cure for smallpox, Norah, because we basically eradicated it by the 1970s.  We have only a very small amount of the vaccine left.  An outbreak would kill us. Get your hands on the article, if you can.”

“I can,” I said.

“And Norah?” Frank asked.

“Yes?”

“Don’t let them get to you. Don’t let them co-opt you. You are far too good a journalist. We need you,” Frank said – seeing right through the situation.

“How did you know?”

“It happens every day,” Frank said. “They promise you the world. Don’t,” he cautioned me.

“You know me, Frank. I’m never about the cash and prizes,” I reassured him.

“Take it from a fellow, idealistic loose cannon,” Frank joked.

“I promise. No favors,” I said.

“Stay in touch?”

“Always,” I said.

*    *    *

My segment was over and everyone had left.  I  had called  our library and had them deliver “The New Yorker” piece to me via interoffice mail. Finally, I could sit down and read it.  “Demon In the Freezer,” by reporter, Paul Reston, gave a detailed history of the smallpox virus – which he traced back to ancient Egypt.  There are 2 types of smallpox – the common kind that isn’t always fatal  and black pox – which was basically the black plague that had killed millions of people in the Middle Ages.  The vivid descriptions of how the virus kills in a very painful way, were a bit much – even for me.

Reston said that, because the world had been smallpox free since 1979, the U.S. had bothered to keep only 4 cases of the vaccine in a storage place in Pennsylvania. The virus itself was kept, supposedly, in only 2 places in the world.  Some was kept here at the CDC and some was at an agency, called Vector, in Russia.  Reston said this was most likely erroneous, since anyone could steal the virus and sell it on the black market. He speculated that Osama bin Laden’s organization (the press did not commonly call it Al Qaida at that point) had some of the virus stockpiled.  I wondered why we’d had that huge anthrax panic right after 9/11 when smallpox seemed much more lethal.

My desk phone rang. It was Larry. I toyed with letting it ring through to voice mail, but I wanted to give him shit about the bubonic plague.

“O’Connell.”

“Hey, Norah. How are you?”

“Great, Larry. I really enjoyed dinner with Jude the other night,” I half lied.

“Great. I knew you would. What are you doing?” he asked.

“Actually, I’m reading up on my favorite subject. Biowarfare,” I quipped.

“Hey, I know something about that,” Larry said.

“Well apparently not as much as you let on,” I said.

“Oh? Okay,” Larry waited for me to continue.

“Look, Larry, the whole bubonic plague scenario that you and Jude have been feeding me is b.s. We have the cure for the plague – plus to disperse it we’d need 3 engine bomber planes.”

“I don’t know about that, Norah. It spread pretty quickly without high technology in midieval times. In fact, it’s considered the first bio warfare attack ever,” he said, trying to distract me.

“Come on.”

“Seriously, Norah. Someone threw a bunch of fleas on a cow carcass and the rats ate the carcass and so on.” Larry was trying his best.

“Dude, we have running water and hospitals,” I said. “I’ve been reading about smallpox. Know anything about it?”

“I do,” Larry said quietly.

“We don’t have enough vaccines left. It was obliterated in the 70s so we had no need for the vaccines.  We stopped vaccinating people and even the people who were vaccinated back then would now be susceptible, because the potency wears off after 12 years. Larry, stuffing folks into tunnels won’t protect us from smallpox, but it’s a more likely scenario than the plague,” I said.

“Jude wants to have dinner with you tonight,” Larry said.

“Tell Jude, I’m not free,” I said.

“Tomorrow night then?”

“Good goddess, Larry. Okay. I’ll see if my ex will watch my son. I’ll get back to you. Next week would be better.”

“Next week, Jude will be on the beach,” Larry said.

“Great. He gets a vacation,” I said, needing one myself.

“Not that beach, Norah.  You know, the one overseas where you can’t reach people.”  Jude was headed for Iraq. Why wasn’t I surprised?

Jude and I arranged to meet at America, an Upper West Side diner that I frequented with friends.  It just made me feel safer – safety first; story second.  Of course, I didn’t tell him it was a hang out, but he probably knew this already.  Big brother was a big reality for me now.

I didn’t have to ask what he looked like.  I saw a slender man in his late 20s. He looked like a soldier in civilian clothing.  The wire rimmed glasses I had not seen coming, but i recognized Jude right away.

“Jude?” I asked.

“Norah.” Jude slid out of his booth and stood up.  I extended my hand. “Good to meet you , Norah,” he said, uneasy about shaking my hand. He waited for me to sit down.

“Well, it’s interesting to put a face on you,” I said, taking in his loosely fitting black suit, white shirt and a thin, blue and red tie.

“You come here often?” Jude asked.

“Sometimes I come here with friends,” I found myself saying. “How about you? Do you eat out in the city much? Are you here or mostly in LA?”

“Norah, the phone number is just a number,” he said in a measured tone, as if he were talking to a child.

“Oh. Okay. Have you ordered yet?” I asked.

“I was waiting for you. What would you recommend?” he asked wryly.

“You can never go wrong with burgers.”

“You don’t think they serve gin here, do you?” he asked.

“Who knows? Greek diners serve a wide array of things,” I said, looking around the chrome and maroon restaurant for a bar.

“Norah, I don’t need a drink,” Jude said.

“I’m just going to have coffee,” I said.

“Are you sure? My treat,” Jude said.

“I’m great with coffee,” I answered.

The waiter came and took our order.  Jude ordered a bowl of soup and we settled into our booth.

“You look a lot different than I thought,” I started.

“What do you mean? Better? Worse?” Jude asked.

“Well, I thought you’d look a lot more square,” I said. “You look a little downtown, actually.” I wondered if he’d dressed like this so he wouldn’t stand out next to a wiccan producer with a bunch of pentacles around her neck.

“You look just like I thought,” he teased.

“Oh, you have a sense of humor,” I grinned.

“Sometimes.”

“So,” I started. “What branch of the military are you with?”

“Who says I’m in the military?”

“My fucken guides. That’s who,” I joked.

“Well, please tell your guides they are correct.”

“Air Force?” I asked.

“Correct again.”

“That time it was me, not my guides. You care about my work enough to be intel and you look like you’re in the Air Force.  Plus the haircut.  It was an educated guess.”

“Norah,” Jude said. “Do you have any idea of how much trouble you got our friend into?”

“Larry?” I asked.

“Yes, Larry.  And for that matter – me,” Jude seemed quietly ticked.

“No, I have no idea. Do tell,” I answered.

The waiter plunked down my coffee and Jude’s chicken noodle soup.  Jude offered me his saltines. I took a pass. I waited for him to continue.

“Where was I?” he asked.

“You were going to tell me about the trouble you and Larry got into,” I prompted him.

“Right – the trouble you got us into,” Jude corrected me.

“Oh, my goddess. That is the oldest trick in the book. Blame the person you want to silence.  But go on, please,” I said.

“Norah, do you have any idea of how valuable Larry is? Larry is a national treasure. Did you know that?” Jude asked.

“As a physicist? As a spy?” I asked.

“As a scientist, Norah. He had the vision to create a bomb that could put the lights out in an entire city,” Jude said.  “He invented it 30 years ago and we’re using it today.”

“You mean the E-bomb?”

“He told you about it,” Jude said.

“We talked about a many things,” I said, wishing I’d been a little more cautious and wondering in how much danger Larry was.  Suddenly, he’d become a source again and I wanted to protect him.

“Jude, all I wanted to do was shoot some footage of underground New York,” I said calmly. “I don’t actually care about E-bombs or national treasures.”

I felt like Jude could see straight through me. Then my 3rd eye flashed on Larry’s phone.  He’d always kept it on our table when we had coffee. I could see Jude listening in on the other end. How stupid could I have been?

“You know you’re interested in more,” Jude said softly “Or you wouldn’t be here.”

“Can we get a check?” I asked. I felt like I couldn’t breathe.

“No prob,” Jude said.

*   *   *

It was one of those rare, cool summer nights in New York – the kind that makes you kick yourself for not bringing a sweater.

“Where to?” Jude asked.

“Lincoln Center.  By the fountain,” I said, rubbing my arms because of the cold.  Jude offered me his jacket and I was not too proud to accept it.

“Norah,” he said, walking slightly ahead of me under some scaffolding. “I don’t really want to be doing this work.”

“And what work would that be?” I asked.

“Working for the intel community, as you might put it,” Jude bent down to say.

“You’re kidding.  What would you like to do?” I asked.

“I’ve always wanted to work for RFE or something,” Jude said.  “You know, as a reporter maybe.”

“Noble profession,” I teased.

Lincoln Center was only a couple of blocks away. I’d always liked the fountain. It was soothing.  The lights were on and the water was rushing.

“Good choice,” Jude smiled.

“I thought so,” I said, looking off into the distance down toward 57th Street. The street noises were comforting. This was my home.

“Norah, what do you know about ESP?” Jude asked

“I know it’s a give and take of communications on the astral plane – a pretty primitive one,” I answered.

Jude laughed. “Why primitive?”

“You focus on 2 dimensional symbols and transmit the images and hope they are received accurately.  How useful can that possibly be?” I asked.

“It’s a good way to weed out people who are not very psychic, for one,” Jude said.

“It’s a way to weed out people who aren’t linear. In fact, those people might be more psychic than the people who send squares and circles,” I said.

“Probably,” he replied.

We listened to the water for a bit.

“Are you psychic?” Jude asked.

“Are you?” I asked.

“No,” he said earnestly.

“Okay. I am,” I said.

“Do you know what remote viewing is?” Jude continued with his line of questioning.

“Of course, I do. It’s a technique for viewing things thousands of miles away without actually being there,” I said.

“Right. Like Chernobyl. They used remote viewers for that,” he said. “MI6 has put a lot of time and money into studying that art,” Jude said.

“Well, fancy that,” I said. “A government that exploits psychics,” I said.

“Norah, you are impossible,” Jude said. “The psychics come willingly.”

“I’d rather cut out my third eye,” I joked.

“Tell me? Will you tell me your technique?” Jude asked.

“Sure. Then you can go home and teach your circle/square people.  I am happy to oblige.” Actually, I was pretty happy that our government had respect for psychic abilities. I forgot for a moment that it would most likely not be used for good.

“Okay,” I said. “So here goes. I start by meditating. I center, ground and protect myself.  Through breath counts, I gather all of my chakric energy into ball of whitish, yellowish light in my solar plexus.  Then I shoot that energy down through my feet, which are flat on the floor. I shoot it into the ground and I root myself deeply there.  Then  I throw up a giant ball of protection around me.” Jude was listening closely. I wasn’t going to tell him the exact recipe.

“Anyhow, after I am centered, grounded and protected, I leave my body through the crown chakra – and sometimes through the 3rd eye. Then I search for the place, the spot I want to view.  When it comes into focus, I tell folks what is going on and I eventually return to my body.”

The rushing water made things so peaceful.

“You know, Norah. It’s the strangest thing,” Jude said. “Every time I ask someone that question, they describe the same technique. Even though they often don’t know anyone else who does it, viewers all do it the same way. ”

“Makes sense,” I said.

“Norah, Larry told you about the Trilateral Commission.”

“He did,” I said.

“Think about it? It’s not every day someone gets asked,” Jude said softly.

“You are insane,” I said.

“Let’s get you home,” Jude helped me up.

He walked me across the street to the 1 train. I took off his jacket.

“Norah,” Jude said tentatively. “I sent my resume into RFE. I don’t have any previous news experience. Could you say I worked for you?”

“Jude, I gotta get some sleep,” I said. “And I won’t lie for you.”

“You wouldn’t have to lie. You could just say you worked with me,” he said.

“Good night, Jude,” I answered, giving him a hug and ducking into the subway.

“Did Jude talk to you?” Larry asked. We were sitting at our usual hang out after work.

“He did,” I said in an amused tone. “Larry, what is up with him? I know you’re a little eccentric, but this guy was not just out there. He is an angry, young man.”

“He’s just, shall we say, on a mission?” Larry smiled.

“What kind of a mission? A mission to bully reporters and threaten our kids? A mission to suppress the truth and do away with the First Amendment`in the name of national security? Nice goal,” I said.

“Norah, throwing stones at people may have been attractive when you were in your 30s, but it’s not very pretty now,” Larry said.

“Well, I beg to differ.  I find it extraordinarily attractive,” I smiled.

“Seriously, Norah.  We know who your source was.  You got caught up in the middle of some low level argument at the DOD.  It had nothing to do with you and I don’t know if you realize this, but you were flagged.” He sat back in his chair.

“What?” I asked.  “You do not know my source.”

“We do too, Norah. We knew him from the start.  His name is Norman. Think about it.  Do you actually think New York City would hire an archaeologist?” Larry asked.

“I don’t know.” My head was spinning.

“Norman was in a fight with someone in the DOD.  He got into trouble and as a ‘favor’ – to get him out of trouble – he helped us get to you,” Larry said, looking at me for a change.  “We sent him to your regular AA meeting to get in touch with you. He made up a story about pre-Civil War tunnels, because he knew you would google it and the first hit would be me.”

“Okay, so who is ‘we’?'” I asked.  “And why not just ring me up?”

“Hard to say,” Larry snorted. “Let’s just say – we kind of operate above the government and we try to do good things for the world. It’s not so easy for us to just pick up the phone.”

“Enough with the guessing games, Larry.  What would anyone need with me?  Do you really need to stop a producer from airing a story that might help people?”

“You were jeopardizing the welfare of others,” Larry said.

“Good goddess. I went through this with Jude last night,” I said, praying to Ma’at for the patience to deal with these kooks.

“Meet with Jude, Norah?” Larry asked.

“No,” I smiled.

“Norah, remember we talked about MK Ultra when we first met?” Larry asked.

“Of course, I do. We talked about my friend, Shari,” I said.

“Your friend was not alone,” Larry said, stirring more sugar into what was left of his coffee. “There are a lot of us. A lot of us have been programmed for this particular space and this particular time. I am. You are.”

“Ridiculous,” I said – halfway wondering if he could be right.

“Your stepdad was an FBI agent,” Larry said quietly.

“Okay, and?” I was startled that they’d figured that one out.

“And you were readied for this. They programmed you to come work for us,” Larry said, keeping his gaze on me. “Norah, it’s your destiny.  We are looking for people who think outside the box,” he wheezed.

I laughed. “Oh, my goddess, Larry You are barking up the wrong tree. Plenty of people think outside the box, but you cannot seriously be thinking of me.  I would never work for you or anyone in the intelligence community or the government or whomever you work for. I’m not interested in giving my energies to the dark side.”

“Come on, Norah,” Larry smiled. “Think of it as shoving a small envelope of light under the door.”

“I’d rather keep my light,” I retorted. “I’m a journalist, Larry, not a spy.”

This time Larry laughed. “And being a journalist is better?”

“I know. I know. Well, in my mind it is,” I said. “Besides, I could never work for you guys. My mouth is too big.”

“Listen, Norah,” Larry moved his chair a little closer to the table. “If you stop with this story, we’ll throw you a couple of big bones. You can break a war story. We’ll let you know stuff in advance that could really make you as a journalist. You’d shoot straight up to the top.”

“What?” I had heard rumors about members of the press being on the take with the government, but this was outrageous – if true.

“Sure,” Larry said. “There are a lot of journalists who come to meetings.”

“I need some more coffee. You want some?” I volunteered.

“Sure, sure. Lots of sugar,” Larry snickered.

While I waited in line for the coffee, I tried to get my mind around what Larry was saying – without actually saying it. He’d really caught me off guard when he’d asked about my stepdad. That must have taken some serious research. I wondered if he knew my actual dad was a journalist. Of course he must, I thought. I decided on “Awake” tea. Maybe it would be easier on my stomach.

“Hey, Larry,” I said, handing him his coffee and 7 packets of sugar. “Where were we?” I asked, as I sat down.

“I was telling you I see lots of journalists at these meetings, let’s say,” Larry said. “You know, Sandy Fox, the weather guy? I have seen him a lot.”

“Meetings of?” I asked.

“Like this society that operates above a lot of the government.”

“Free masons?” I guessed.

“Sort of,” he said. Clearly I had not hit the nail on the head with that one.”Your dad is one, Norah. It’s in your blood line. It’s not like you have a choice.”

I was sort of glazed over at that point.

“Have you ever heard of the Trilateral Commission?” Larry continued.  “It exists.”

“Surely, you’re joking,” I said.

“Ask your dad,” Larry suggested.

*    *    *

My dad worked at the TV station right above the Starbucks where Larry and I met. It was a quick shot upstairs. I asked Dad to buzz me up.

He was preparing for his piece on the 11 o’clock. His producer came to the elevators to let me in and gave me a hug.  I could hear him down the hallway.  He was firing away questions at someone. “Is he on the phone?” I asked.

“As always,” Naomi said. “Just knock and take a seat.”

I knocked lightly and poked my head in the door. Dad was on the phone with the public advocate who was considering running for mayor.  He smiled and winked at me, as if to say he’d be through in a second, which he was.

“Dad? Can I ask you something?” I said.

“Hey, it’s nice to see you, Norah,” he grinned.

“Yes, very nice,” I smiled. “I don’t have a lot of time, Stan.” I sometimes called him by his first name. “I’m sorry I haven’t been in touch lately.”

“Go ahead, Norah – shoot,” he said.

“Okay, I’m gonna just say this straight out. Are you in the Trilateral Commission?”

“What?” My dad stared at me blankly.

“I’ve been working on a story about tunnels, Dad. And I’ve met some guys – one of them a physicist. He’s been a fantastic source, by the way. Well, we just had coffee and he told me you were Tri Lat,” I said.

“Norah, you mean you think I’ve been co-opted?” Stan asked.

“You tell me,” I said, looking right at him.

“Norah, you listen. If any of those guys ever lays a hand on you, it will be all over the news. You go tell them it will be not just all over BNC, but all over the news world everywhere. Do you understand? Go tell them that.”

“I guess, I do understand, Dad.” I said, realizing in his own way he’d just said, “yes.”

We said a brief good-bye and as I walked toward the glass doors that led to the elevators, I called Larry.

“Hey, Norah,” he said, knowing I’d have to be the one to ask.

“Okay, I’m ready to meet Jude,” I said.