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San Pedro, Los Angeles. Young and smart, Alex Anderson is in full swing to be elected again in the Congress of the United States of America. In the last days, however, something begins to upset him. It is a unresolved part of his past, that Alex has brought with him every single day of his life. Its name is Maggie Jones. Certainly, for him she was still "little Maggie", his best friend that one day could have become the love of a lifetime, but about whom he had no news since 1986. One morning, during a meeting in his office in Washington, Alex gets a phone call.It's her.Out of the blue, his life is literally swallowed up by someone who begins to hunt him; it's Chuck Dillinger, former CIA agent who hit the headlines for having released dozens of top secret documents and serious details about NSA activity, starting in this way the scandal that the press renamed as Datagate.Social networks, mobile phones, credit cards: according to Dillinger, we are all intercepted.Why Alex Anderson? As Arianna Huffington explains in her article, Alex is part of the secret society most known in America and, perhaps, all over the world: Skull and Bones. A family tradition, since his father Ron and his grandfather Philip are its founders, just like Bushes. This would make him The Predestined, chosen by his leader group as the next Republican candidate for the White House. Thus, in the crazy plan of Dillinger, Anderson becomes the connecting link with the system to subvert and overthrow.Along with Matt Payne, his friend a little bit crazy, and with Veronica Hayes, journalist for Los Angeles Times, met a few hours before aboard a plane, Alex begins a full-fledged race against time that will see him fighting, besides for his life, also and especially to foil an attack against the heart of democracy.After the murder of the FBI Inspector Carl Nowitzki, who in a few hours was supposed to meet Alex to give important news on the case, the command of the operation goes to Frank Da Silva, Head of the counter-terrorism division of the National Security Branch.The mysterious rites of Skull and Bones inside the Tomb and at Deer Island, chases, betrayals, gunfights and the spark of love that, like a bolt from the blue, inflames Alex and Veronica's hearts. The Predestined is a path of three hundred pages, dotted with a succession of twists and on the background of a real showdown among some segments of the intricate world of intelligence and of international espionage.A compelling story beyond all expectations, that will surprise you, will take you by the hand and drag you away until you discover the terrible secret behind the mysterious Maggie Jones.Our journey with Alex, Veronica and Matt is about to begin.And you, are you ready to save the World?
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Translation by Miriam Mazza
Title | The Predestined
Author | Alessandro Nardone
ISBN | 9788891190635
First digital edition: 2015
© All right reserved
Via Roma 73 - 73039 Tricase (LE)
To Irene and Vittoria Amelia
And to Gregorio, my father
When the elephants fight the grass is always the one to be crushed. AFRICAN PROVERB
YOU should see my desk: it’s literally overrun with books, newspaper clippings, documents, maps and photographs printed with my computer. All in no particular order, of course.
Can you imagine the offices of CIA or FBI while they are working on a case? You have certainly seen them in dozens of movies. So, with all due respect to Irene, my room is very reminiscent of them. This is the material I used to create the book you are holding in your hands and that, as soon as you turn this page, will catapult you straight to Los Angeles, California.
Let’s get back to us. In the last months you have certainly read and heard about the scandal that the Italian press has dubbed as Datagate, which shows an obvious and disquieting reality: in fact we are all intercepted. Phone conversations, e-mails, social networks, it makes no difference. The National Security Agency has the power to know everything about everyone, including all Heads of State.
How much truth there is in the revelations of Snowden and Assange? Where is the line between right and wrong, when you are dealing with national security? Our privacy, a substantial part of our individual freedom, is expendable on the altar of the concept theoretically higher (but also more abstract) of general freedom? In all this, which is the role of the powerful lobbies that, in the thesis of someone, are pulling the strings of power?
Well, nothing of what I wrote in The Predestined answers these questions because they are nothing more the same questions on which I am keeping on questioning. As I said at the beginning – although it contains some real names – this book is just a fantastic journey and therefore, as written by Stephen King in his postscript 22/11/63, is «only an interesting simulation» blossomed in my mind during a conversation that took place in circumstances totally accidental, on board of a train travelling to Zurich.
The woman I was sitting next to, confided in me and, coincidentally, she stroke up a conversation just as I was reading an article about the revelations of Snowden. Among the many things she told me during those three hours, what struck me most was contained in her last sentence she uttered just before she left.
«Let me say something about Prism project, for which I have been working for many years: much of what is written in newspapers is true. I think that not everything is right, but in this case, the unjust is a necessary evil.».
Put yourselves in my shoes. Wouldn’t you have been curious with a shocking revelation like that? Well, I was, and also very much, to the point that I ventured to ask her to give me her name, her email, or her mobile number or if I could have found her in Facebook.
Nothing to do.
When she got off the train I stood for a few seconds near the window to observe her walking away from me, briskly. After few steps she turned around, giving me the impression she was seeking confirmation that I was following her with my eyes.
She had to feel my eyes on her, I thought.
Her refusal left me a bitter taste. Damn, I was so curious, I wanted to know more. I took my backpack, noticing an old notebook on the seat. My eyes widened. It was her notebook, I had no doubt. I dropped my backpack and immediately I began to leaf through it.
On those handwritten sheets it was written about a little girl that escaped an attack and about a young officer trained in secret, in England. Then, many pages torn. At last, in confused, wider and uncertain handwriting
I like Switzerland... but not my new name. I have changed many... The important thing is THEY would not discover me. For this reason, henceforth, I will only use a pencil!
THERE are people spending their life pursuing their dreams, and there are people who do everything to chase them away, to escape from them. But let’s proceed with order. I love seagulls. I remember that in my childhood I spent hours and hours watching them, down to the pier in San Pedro.
I loved to lose myself in their trajectories, and it seemed to me to grasp the meaning of their cries, to the point of being able to distinguish them, depending on the time of the day. For example, in the evening, when the lights of the sunset tinged the ocean of a sparkling red, they loved to chase and challenge themselves who could do the most daring evolutions, exactly as we children did riding our BMX. We spent whole days running up and down the harbour, we had a great fun, Matt and I. We were always together, from morning to night. However sometimes I also felt the need to sit a bit on my own, and I used to go on a bench of the Fish Market, watching my friends seagulls. Sue, the waiter of the restaurant, always used to find five minutes to bring me some marshmallows and sit there with me, telling me stories of when she was a little girl spending her days in the boat with her father, who was a fisherman. She always told me that she would have liked to find a boy of her same age who would love to hang out there on the pier, enjoying that miracle with her, but all boys she met were all stupid and therefore she preferred to stay alone. I loved so much to spend that time of the day with her, even if my friends teased me telling me that standing there watching the sunset and the seagulls was something for sissies.
Already at that time, I did not care anything about what others said, even if they were my best friends. As a matter of fact, because I loved them, I hoped for them that one day they would have understood how important is to be able to capture the beauty and the importance of some simple moments of our life. Then came that damn day, when my mother told me that we should have left California in a few weeks, because dad had received, directly from President Reagan, an important position in the US consulate in Italy. «Alex, in Europe will be fine, moreover Rome is a great city, you’ll love it. I’m sure you’ll make lots of new friends».
I was not able to find the strength to cry and not even to answer her, nothing at all. The only thing that instinctively I managed to do was to jump on my bike and go down to the harbour.
I sat crouched on a bench, with my arms around my knees, and I didn’t want to know anything about anyone or anything else. As I watched the seagulls I felt an immense sense of nostalgia, as if those places, smells and colours were no more mine, I felt out of place, even if that was still my home. Then I thought about my friends, my school, and all those sunsets spent together with Sue. All over. No, it was not fair. At one point I felt someone touching my shoulder, I hoped to find Sue, but it was little Maggie, the daughter of our neighbours, who was one year younger than me. We had never talked so much, but we used to smile each other every time we met.
It was weird. Even that time she didn’t say anything, she just sat next to me and took me by the hand.
We watched the sunset and the seagulls, silently, together.
It was the 10th of October of 1986.
If I should walk through the valley of darkness, I fear no evil, for you are with me. PSALM 23
New York, September 11, 2001
“…now listen to the call of the Mayor of New York, Rudolph Giuliani: move away from the business district south of Manhattan, head north…”
DAMN, what time is it? I had the feeling I felt asleep just five minutes ago, how was it possible that the alarm clock was already ringing? Moreover in my room it was pitch dark. I did not even remember what time I came back home, I could only remember that the evening at the Yale Club was really hard, because of that Italian wine I brought to my former classmates. It was so excellent you did not realize how strong it was, while drinking it. So, once I got home, before throwing myself to bed, I took off the phone ringer and I lowered the blinds to all windows.
Actually I was not used to do so, because I always loved to wake up early in the morning, but that day I had no specific commitments, therefore I pointed the alarm rather late, few minutes after eleven. In short, I would have taken it slowly. First of all a quick shower, then newspapers and later I would have walked up to Landmark Coffee Shop, on 158 avenue, where I would have enjoyed the best pancakes of all Manhattan.
After I rubbed my eyes for the umpteenth time, I decided to get out of bed and check what time it was. I was still numb of sleep, and I perceived the words coming out of the radio as a simple background buzz. I dragged myself to the bathroom, and I slipped right under the shower. The warm water flowing on me was a sort of miracle, managing to cuddle me and wake me up at the same time.
I would have stayed there much longer, if it was not for my stomach which had begun to grumble with increasing insistence, craving for the pancakes with butter and syrup that I had not eaten for months. A real caloric bomb, but who cares, I thought, sometimes you can do it. After having dried myself, I went back in my room, turned on the light and, before starting to get myself dressed, I took the phone which was in charge, on the nightstand beside my bed.
Twelve missed calls.
What the hell had happened? Looking at the phone calls, I saw that four were made by my mother, six came from the office of my father, one was Matt and the other one was made by a number I had not in my phone book. At first I thought someone had been sick, and immediately I tried to call back, but the phone told me that the network was absent and it was possible to make only emergency calls. I switched it off and back on, I checked that the sim card was properly in place, but there was nothing to do, that fucking phone did not want to work. My hands began to sweat. I went to the window and, while I was nervously turning up the shutter, instinctively I began to hear the excited voices coming from the radio. At that moment I understood everything.
“… both towers of the World Trade Centre had collapsed, Manhattan is in chaos, and even the Pentagon is under attack. The White House has been evacuated. We repeat again that Mayor Giuliani called on the citizens to get away from…”
I took the television remote control, pressed one, and I was faced with that terrifying sequence of images showing a column of smoke coming from the side of the North Tower, while a moment later a plane crashed into the South Tower, which was immediately engulfed in flames.
The scream of a journalist off camera, the words in large letters “America under attack”, human beings throwing themselves into the void in order not to be devoured by the flames. Maybe – I thought in those moments of panic and madness – those people loved seagulls as I love them, and in those moments in which they felt hopelessly hunted by death and destruction, perhaps they must have implored God to transform them into seagulls, saving them from a fate too horrible and too cruel to be true. Then the collapse, first the South Tower and then the North Tower. In slow motion. I have no words, said the journalist on CNN. Well, I was also enable to say a word, I was petrified, stupefied, motionless. Unconsciously, among the myriad of thoughts that ran through my head like a sharp blade of a katana, I hoped to be in the middle of a bad dream or in front of the trailer of the movie Independence Day. In short, I was refusing to accept what was happening.
Suddenly, I came to my senses. I dressed hurriedly wearing the same shirt and trousers I was wearing the night before, I took my wallet, my mobile phone and I left my house. I absolutely wanted to see with my eyes what was going on. My apartment was in Broadway Road, near Lafayette Station, and generally by foot, I had only a little over half an hour to reach the area of Lower Manhattan, where the World Trade Centre was.
Once crossed the threshold of the door, I found myself in a surreal scene. First of all the silence. Yes, because in the middle of what seemed to have all characteristics of the most shocking terrorist attack in modern history, one would expect screams and chaos. Instead it was the opposite. There was a multitude of people intent to move away from the area of the attacks, and everything was wrapped in an unreal, almost deadly, otherworldly silence. They all seemed to come towards me, because I was one of the very few people who walked southward. Some of them tried, so nervously as unnecessarily, to call or even to send a text message, others were completely covered with white powder, others gave up walking and sat on the roadsides, bursting into tears. At one point, a girl fell into my harms, begging me to let her call her boyfriend with my mobile because her phone was not working. She was crying bitterly, and I did not dare to say no, to deny her some hope, even though I knew that only a miracle would have been able to make my phone work.
While she was dialling the number, she told me that her boyfriend was working in one of the two towers, but she was sure he managed to escape before the collapse. Realizing that even from my phone every call was impossible, she thanked me whispering «He’s safe, isn’t he?», I put my hand on her right shoulder, and doing my best to be credible, I tried to reassure her replying with a yes.
I looked up, I made just two or three steps, and I realized that from that point on, the track was completely covered by a layer of white powder, and that on my blue shirt fell something that at first glance seemed to be confetti, but was nothing more than scraps of burnt paper, just like the air I was breathing.
Suddenly I was bumped violently into my legs with a shopping cart of a black homeless dressed with a green heavy parka, who said looking straight into my eyes: «Hey boy, where are you going? There’s hell over there! Jesus Christ is taking revenge, this is the Doomsday, boy, the Doomsday!».
I tried to make one step, managing to take him off my way and, turning around, I saw that guy trying to stop anyone who walked in his opposite direction. The street corners were manned by soldiers, who distributed bottles of water to passersby, inviting them to go north, but I managed to keep going on.
The sky was dark, it seemed it had been swallowed by that white dust, leaving just a glimpse of a so pale sun that was not even able to project our shadows. At each step we were leaving behind our footsteps, the layer of dust settled on the ground had become a couple of inches at least, giving the impression of walking on sand. I had totally lost track of time and space. But something told me that I had to push myself as far as possible, that my eyes had to see what was happening.
In the meanwhile I kept on thinking about my parents, who were certainly experiencing hours of panic, because they could not manage to speak with me, and I hoped that in Los Angeles and Rome, where they were, nothing horrible had happened similar to what was happening in New York, I was terribly worried. On the other hand, it was hours I had not received their news. I tried to concentrate and think, trying to remember if any of my friends were inside the Twin Towers. But I wasn’t able.
Looking around myself, I saw groups of people praying, shops and bars were empty, cars were abandoned in the middle of the roads, but a moment later I thought about the night before, when those same streets were lit and full of people. It seemed that ages had passed, but only a few hours had elapsed.
As soon as I reached Wall Street, I was stopped by some military, along with a group of people that was proceeding southward like me: «From this point on it’s all blocked, it’s war zone». Many of the people nearby began to argue that they had to go to World Trade Centre to rescue their families who were there, they had to look for them, but the soldiers were inflexible: «Sorry but everything is collapsing, you all would put your lives at risk». In those moments I realized for the first time in my short life what face has despair. I could see it, carved into the eyes and faces of those women and men destroyed by grief, who wanted to defy death to keep alive even one glimmer of hope. Husband, wife, son, friend, parents. Each of them had a piece of their lives beyond that block, in the midst of the most enormous pile of debris that the world has ever known, each of them just wanted to go there digging through the rubble still smoking, hoping to hear the voice of their loved ones still alive. I was astonished in front of so much pain. Suddenly, when some of them began to get angry, I heard a phone ringing. It was mine.
Immediately I put my hand into my trousers pocket, and, on the screen, I saw it was the same number from which someone had tried to call me few hours before, it was the same number that it was not in my phone book. Who could it be? I pressed the green button and answered:
«Alex, thank God you’re alive! It’s me, Maggie.»
«Maggie? But... how is it possible? We haven’t spoken each other since years,… how did you get this number? Where are you?», I asked her.
«Now it doesn’t matter, I just wanted to be sure that nothing has happened to you. Go to a safe place, I’ll call you in the next few days.», she said curtly.
«Maggie, wait!», I shouted.
As soon as I realized what had just happened, a middle-aged man began to ask politely but insistently to let him use my phone. At the same moment a woman accidentally bumped into me, making me lose the balance for a moment. I managed not to fall down, but my phone slipped from my hand, falling among the feet of all those people who stood there, hoping to go on.
The man and the woman immediately realized what had happened, apologizing for their impetuosity and bent down with me to help me to look for my phone. Hopeless undertaking. That damn white powder kept entering into my eyes and, I could barely see the feet of the people around me. To make matters worse, the military asked everyone to take a few steps back, bringing us much far than the point where my phone dropped. Shit, just right now! I exclaimed to myself. In the meanwhile, the man and the woman who unwittingly made me lose the only means through which I could hope to get in touch with the rest of the world, kept on begging me to forgive them.
On the other hand, how could I blame them? For a moment, the ringing of my phone had rekindled also their hopes. So I hugged them both, I asked them to stop apologizing, and I tried to comfort them saying that they would find their loved ones.
In despair I knew that I could not reach World Trade Centre, therefore I decided to walk towards home where, at least, I could have tried to connect to internet. As I walked backward that apocalyptic path, for few minutes I did nothing but think about the phone call of little Maggie. It had been many years since we saw each other.
I remember she called me when I was in Rome to wish me happy birthday, then nothing more happened, until today. The last image I could remember was the day when we left Los Angeles and moved to Italy. Fifteen years have passed since then, I did not even know how she was looking like, where she was living or what she was doing, but in some ways, I always felt her presence, much more than most of the people I had to see every day. Weird, really weird, I thought.
After an indefinite lapse of time, I went back on earth realizing that I had lost my phone and also her phone number. How could I find her? I would have plenty of time to think about it. As soon as I reached the door of my apartment I let out a sigh of relief, I was safe, but, at the same time, thinking about the terror snaking through the streets, I felt a strong sense of guilt, I felt privileged. The television, which I had left on, continued to transmit images of that shocking disaster, alternating them with some shots taken in the streets of Manhattan, among that desperate and silent multitude of which, until few minutes before, I was part of. I had a great desire to have a shower, to take off that tremendous mixture of sweat and white powder but first of all I wanted to call my parents. Thus I went to the desk and turned on my computer, which now seemed so slow. As soon as I opened Windows, I switched the modem on and tried to connect, even if television had just said that it was very difficult to access network. Come on, come on, connect! I closed my eyes for a moment, and as soon as I opened them I saw that the computer was connected. Yes! Without hesitating not even a moment, with the fear that connection could abandon me at any time, I opened Outlook and wrote immediately an email to mom and dad, telling them I was fine, unfortunately I lost my phone and I would have called them in the evening. Then I wrote another email to the mailing list which included friends and former college buddies, seventy contacts more or less:
First of all I want to tell you all I’m fine, at least from a physical point of view. As for the rest I feel destroyed. I just got back home, I tried to reach WTC by foot but it was impossible. I will remember what I saw today for the rest of my life: I saw despair in the eyes of all the people who stopped me in the street begging me to help them to find their loved ones. No, such a tragedy can not be explained. There are no words to describe the smell of death I breathed in the streets of New York and that now I feel stuck on me. Hell is here, today. Well, I hope with all my heart that the bastards who did this to our people and our nation, will live every minute of their revolting existence in the awareness of being dead men walking. They must feel themselves hunted down and they must pay dearly for what they did.
Sorry for my outburst, but it is all too strong today.
Answer me right away, I love you all.
After taking a shower, I spent half an hour listening to the first comments on CNN, and then I went out. On television I heard that a place where to donate blood had been set up few meters from my house. I stood in that very long queue formed by people who, like me, wanted to give their little help to the tens of thousands wounded who were in need.
We were all stunned and frightened, but we were still standing.
Where there is freedom, there is my Country. BENJAMIN FRANKLIN
August 15, 2004
«COMEON, Alex, are you really convinced that your generation is better than mine? I am sorry to contradict you, but I only see lot of disinterest and too much disillusion, and very few of real ideals». Who was in front of me was Professor Swenson, with whom I stayed in contact even after I finished my studies. He was one of the few people with whom I liked to talk, not because we shared the same ideas, but for his innate ability to bring out the best in me, always giving me new points of reflection. When I was in New York I often went to meet him in his office, and our exchanges of opinion could last five minutes up to five hours. In the last years I approached active politics, attending the Young Guns of the GOP and organizing some events for Tea Parties, but it was a commitment in its embryonic stage and therefore very superficial.
I did not mean to escape from the burden of what I thought was my passion, but I told myself I would have thrown myself in it with heart and soul as soon as I had found the right conditions to do really something good for the community. I had never done anything just to do it, not even the most trivial things. In this, I looked like Ron, my father. I still remember when, in the evening, he was trying to make me understand maths, and, through it, the principle for which the final result depends mainly on the most basic operations. The problem today is that we tend to take too much things for granted, ignoring more often those elementary operations in favour of things to which we ascribe more importance. Fatal mistake: in the mass, the detail makes the difference. Over the years, the belief that most of the evils of our time were chargeable above all to the carelessness of those who had the responsibility to rule the World, affecting seriously well-being and freedom in the ratio of power and control, was gradually strengthened in me. So, that morning I decided to visit Professor Swenson to understand if, he too, coming from the generation before mine, shared the same feeling of frustration as I was. I wanted to understand. «Ideals must be also transmitted! I think it’s too easy to point the finger at the younger generations, while everything is falling apart. Today, however, politicians like Kerry try to make propaganda also using the deaths of September 11. Would these be the “true ideals” to which you are referring, professor?». Swenson fell silent for a moment, just the time to place his glasses, pushing them back on the nose with his forefinger.
«Here it is, Alex, this is precisely the point. Do you really think that in front of certain attitudes it is sufficient just to be indignant? What is it that drives you to be so arrogant as to think that you all are better than others, and therefore you do not have to play the same game together with them?», he asked me.
«Okay, but this is not enough, Peter! Look around yourself, Rome is burning, and we are again splitting, even if slowly. The point here is not only to win a war against an enemy that we know little or nothing of, the stakes are terribly higher…», I replied, getting excited.
«What do you mean?», he asked.
«I mean that, or we are able to constantly keep the faith alive in values such as freedom and attachment to our nation, or they will have won, and the sacrifice of all those guys fighting at the front will be vain, this is what I mean», I explained, staring straight in his eyes.
«You convinced me, Alex. You are right. If I know you well, and I think so, from your words I understand that you have decided to get serious…»
«Lincoln said that who is silent instead of protesting is a coward, right? You taught me this, do you remember? Well, in my life I’ve been afraid so many times and I’m not ashamed to admit it, but I’ve never been a coward», I told him.
«I know. My task was simply to show you the path, prodding you…», he admitted, while a slight smile popped up on his face.
«And you succeeded, as usual».
«Always count on me, son, and God bless you».
It is difficult to notice what you see everyday. DAVID FOSTER WALLACE
October 10, 2012
«MR. Anderson, I have a call for you, a certain Maggie Jones, I told her you were in a meeting, but she insisted so much, she says it’s urgent». The mere sound of that name, was enough to make disappear all the people in front of me, on the other side of my desk.
«Gentlemen, I’m sorry, but we’ll have to postpone our meeting this afternoon. I have an urgency, see you later». Their expressions betrayed a not so light veil of impatience, but they immediately understood and left the office. I felt strangely nervous, my hands began to sweat, and I felt the need to loosen my tie.
«Hallo Meg, please put me through Mrs. Jones»
«Maggie, is it you?», I asked, as soon as my ear approached the phone .
«Yes Alex, it’s me», she answered.
«Damn, where have you been? In all these years I’ve been looking for you everywhere: telephone directories, Facebook, internet… absolutely nothing. Why haven’t you called me anymore?»
«Because I knew you were fine. Although we did not call each other, I have followed everything you have done, step by step. Since that day when you left, in 1986, I have always been there for you, Alex. You won’t believe it, but this is true»
Maggie’s voice sounded awfully familiar, but eleven years had passed since the last time I heard her. However, even if I had not heard from her anymore since that bloody September 11, not a day nor a week passed without thinking about her. I had no idea where she was, but I felt her terribly close to me, exactly as she said.
«I believe you, Maggie…»
«Listen, where are you now? Why don’t we meet? I could take the first flight to Los Angeles, and…»
«Not now, Alex, it’s not time, now you have more important things to think about, trust me.»
«But what does this mean? I don’t understand. For which strange reason, seeing you should distract my attention from what I am doing? It isn’t logical!»
«If I tell you so, it’s because it’s the truth. We will see each other, Alex, but not now, it’s not the right time.»
«In exactly one year, starting from today, I will be waiting for you at San Pedro, on the same bench we used to meet.»
«In one year? You must be joking? I want to see you right now… Maggie, is there something you can not tell me?»
«Don’t ask explanations, that’s it. Don’t forget Alex, if you won’t be there we will have no other opportunities to see each other again, so do not miss, no matter what happens. Now I have to say goodbye.», she replied laconically. I tried to talk to her again, but nothing to do, she had already switched off.
I was incredulous, that conversation had left me literally speechless. Without hesitating not even for an instant, I called Meg, my secretary, and asked her to trace the number from which the call had come. At that point, I wanted to go through with it, and figure out who really was Maggie Jones, and why she was behaving so enigmatically. All things considered, I didn’t know anything about her and, all along all those years, she could have become anyone. I was not feeling in danger, however that situation was starting to trouble me. I thought for a moment whether to warn the head of the security service of the Capitol, basically it was a duty because of the delicacy of my role as a Representative in Congress, moreover in the midst of my election campaign.
But I decided to postpone, because something was telling me that little Maggie was in good faith, and also because it would have the taste of a sort of betrayal to do something like that. I was hoping not to be wrong.
American Airlines flight to Los Angeles
I had a really hard day, but finally I was on the flight back to California. During the election campaign, I was working at a so hectic pace, that the only moments of relax were the ones I could spend on board. That evening, however, aided by the fact that I would have landed quite late, I did not scheduled any meetings. I needed to recharge my batteries for the flurry of meetings that the election committee had organized on my district, the number 33 of California.
My opponent, Democrat Trevor Spencer, was a tough nut to crack but, despite the competition was particularly fierce, I had kept with him a very good personal relationship. He was nearly thirty years older than me, and was a great friend of my father. I have very fond memories of evenings spent with them two talking about politics. Even then, when I was a boy, I had a strong propensity for Republicans, perhaps powered by the fact that I grew up with the myth of a President of the calibre of Ronald Reagan who, better than anyone else, was able to represent a courageous America, the one of Reaganomics, able to create prosperity for all by betting on itself, based on a model of efficient State and minimally invasive. Furthermore, despite the divergence between our respective points of view, Spencer admired the verve I used to put in my speeches, and he never missed an opportunity to encourage me to follow my passion for active politics. Among the memories I cherish most closely, there is a note in which he congratulated for my election to Congress, in 2010.
Among all those I received, his note had a particular value, simply because on that occasion he challenged me for the seat in the House of Representatives, ending with his defeat:
you know, a part of me says that perhaps I had better not to encourage you to do politics, when you were a little boy! Joking aside, it may seem strange to you, but the fact that I have been beaten by you, gives a less bitter flavour to my defeat. Of course, nobody likes to lose, but I know your family and your love for your Country, so I’m sure you will serve our people at your best.
If you like, I will always be ready to cooperate.
It’s useless to say that, thanks to his deep humanity, Trevor managed to maintain an excellent result in the entire district but, despite this, polls were saying I was leading for five points at least. So many points, but not enough to put me in a position to rest on my laurels.
Not at all, I had to fight for every vote, without taking anything for granted, both for the undoubted qualities of my opponent, but also because Democrats could count on the bonus of “Obama factor” who, being the outgoing President, was clearly favourite over Mitt Romney who, furthermore, was also in the mood for gaffes that had put him in serious troubles with public opinion more than once. The plane was about to take off, as usual I took the window seat and, next to me sat a woman and I had the impression of having already seen her somewhere.
But on the spur of the moment, I did not pay much attention, because of the great weariness that was about to overwhelm me and the consequent lack of desire to communicate. Thus, I took advantage on the fact she had not noticed me, to put my headphones into my ears and listen to music, hiding myself behind the Los Angeles Times, that I hadn’t had time to read yet that day.
I hate the world today You're so good to me I know but I can't change Tried to tell you But you look at me like maybe I'm an angel underneath Innocent and sweet Yesterday I cried Must have been relieved to see The softer side I can understand how you'd be so confused I don't envy you I'm a little bit of everything All rolled into one
Suddenly, while I was reading an article of local politics, the radio of the airline sent an old song that I hadn’t heard for years, Bitch by Meredith Brooks. Right away I averted my attention from the newspaper, and I began to force myself to remember in which year that song appeared. 1999 or 2000? Damn, it was impossible to use Shazam because I was flying. While I was absorbed in that useless dilemma, a hand lowered my newspaper with some force, making me jump with fright.
«Ah, so it’s you!».
So the mystery of my neighbour was revealed, it was Veronica Hayes, news correspondent in Washington for Los Angeles Times. I found her in front of me, with a smile on her face which seemed to say, here I caught you!
Actually, looking at her outside of an official context, Mrs. Hayes was a very attractive woman: black hair and blue eyes, that I had never noticed because of her thick-rimmed glasses, that she could afford because of her very good features.
«Damn, Veronica, you scared the life out of me!», I uttered, positively surprised to have found her in front of me.
«Eheh, I had no doubt, but honestly I could not resist. How come in economy class?», she asked, with impertinent air.
«I always travel in economy because usually you journalists travel in business!»
«Actually it’s the opposite, however, it’s a good joke for a politician amidst the election campaign. By the way, have you got some preview news to give me?»
«Actually I have a question, I am assailed by a doubt to which I must give an answer…»
«If I can, I’ll help you willingly. Come on, I’m listening.»
«Before I was risking a heart attack because of you, I was listening to Bitch, the song of Meredith Brooks and…»
At the point, Veronica interrupted me with a laugh that made all passengers turned their heads.
«Well, why do you find it so funny?», I whispered to her.
«Cause I knew what you were asking, because I was wondering about the same thing, as we listen to the same radio: In which year appeared that song? Am I right?», she asked.
«Bingo! Therefore you don’t even know… in this case I think I will not be able to close my eyes and sleep for the whole time of our flight!», I exclaimed amused.
We spent the rest of the journey chatting, initially about our musical tastes and about some frivolous arguments, and then, within few minutes, we spoke about politics and elections. Argument that I would have postponed with pleasure but at that point it became almost inevitable. Therefore, once landed, Veronica snatched me the promise of a complete interview.
We fixed the appointment on Sunday morning in the headquarters of my election committee in San Pedro, so the article could be published on Monday, the day of the largest circulation for Los Angeles Times.
We said goodbye outside the airport where, waiting for me, there was Matt who, in addition to being my best friend, was also a man of great skills of communication and, therefore, was the responsible for the organization of my election campaign.
«Cute girl, why haven’t you introduced me to her?», he started, without even saying hallo.
«Matt, stop it, and moreover she is not the right one for you.», I immediately interrupted him.
«You’re a real asshole, let me decide if a woman is right or not for me. Come on, tell me who is she!», he insisted.
«That was Veronica Hayes, does it mean something to you?»
«Do you mean that Veronica Hayes? The Los Angeles Times’ journalist?»
«Well, actually you are right: I swear I won’t make a pass at her… at least until the election campaign is over!»
Matt Payne was my crazy brother. I admit that, in some moments, especially in those where stress reached the highest peaks, I used to see in him what I wanted to be, that is the kind of person who loves life in an easygoing way, like an eternal boy with the Peter Pan syndrome. I’m not saying that Matt was an inexperienced or a superficial person, on the contrary he was a great professional man, as well as a very good creative, qualities that enabled him to found an agency of communication that was one of the most quoted and respected in the market. Furthermore, his professional success allowed him to live exactly as he wanted, that is free from any kind of commitment except surfing in Manhattan Beach at sunset. For him it was an absolutely unavoidable appointment, a true lifestyle. Handsome, one meter and ninety tall, blonde bob, perfect body, constantly tanned: anyone, even far away, would immediately identified him as the archetype of the Californian surfer.
As it was late, that evening I would have slept at his house, so that we would have some time together to update us on the appointments he planned for me from the next day up to the weekend. He lived right on Paseo del Mar, between Almeria and Emily Street but, since I had not eaten anything in the last ten hours, before going back home, we stopped at In-n-Out; actually, as it was late, I could also have resisted until the next day, but the lure of my favourite cheeseburger was really too strong to be able to ignore it.
Furthermore, you can find that chain of fast-food only in California, and it is inevitable that each time I come back home from Washington I am always looking forward to bite one of those sandwiches. In short, I can say that In-n-Out and Fish Market in San Pedro are my culinary points of reference, since I was a boy. I know it may sound banal, but to go to those places every time I came back home and find the same flavours as always, it was a bit like travelling backwards in time. Many things changed, but some other remained always the same.
After that night snack, we finally arrived home. It was nearly two in the morning, but the myriad of commitments that we had to face did not allow us to give too much time to rest. So, after we drank a Red Bull, Matt and I we sat comfortable on the sofa, skimming through event reports, lists of people to contact or meet, and press releases. After about half an hour, Matt went in the back room for few minutes, and then came back with an handmade cigarette in his hands.
«I hope this is not what I think…», I said glaring at him. In fact, Matt knew perfectly well how much I loathed any kind of drugs, including marijuana.
«Come on Alex, this is a natural one, I smoke it to relax my nerves. I think it would do you good also, you know», he answered, before licking the rim of the rolling paper and then close the “cigarette”.
«I do not relax at all, you know what I think about it. It’s a long time I’m keeping on telling you the same things, is it possible that you don’t want to make up your mind and grow up, Matt? Fuck, you are almost forty! Apart from the damage caused to your brain because of that stuff, have you ever thought what newspapers would write if they find out that the head of my election campaign cultivates marijuana plants in the garden of his house?», I asked him. I was totally flipped out.
At that point, Matt slipped the joint on his right ear, and sat down in front of me. He stood in silence for a few moments: evidently my words affected him, he wanted to think, in order to avoid to answer me in a wrong way. The same attitude he had when we were kids, and we ended up arguing.
«Listen Alex, you are like a brother to me, I’m serious. But you and I, we are different, it’s high time you realize it. Perhaps it’s due to our diversity that we have always got on well, and we’re friends since we were born…», he answered, evidently disappointed.
«I know that, but I…», I tried to intervene.
«Don’t interrupt, now it’s my turn to speak! I understand that you are very nervous for this election campaign, and so am I, but you have to know that in front of you there is someone who is not a crazy person who does not know what he’s doing. It’s simple, I love to do some things that you don’t. This is normal, brother. Therefore, when I am feeling very tired and I want to smoke a joint, I smoke a joint. Also because I don’t believe I have created troubles to you until now, am I wrong?».
I must confess that, while I was listening to him, I felt terribly guilty, and my eyes became watery. Who was I to judge him? Moreover, in front of me there was the most precious friend I ever had, who was able to do anything for me, and without asking anything in return. So I listened to my instinct and hugged him.
«I care for you, Matt», surprised at my reaction, he looked into my eyes, gave me a light slap on my head, and stood up.
«This means I can smoke it, am I right?», he told me, making one of his typical jeering smile.
«Just open the windows, I don’t want to breathe that shit. Come on, it’s late, let’s look at these two things and then let’s go to sleep».
After about three quarters of an hour, inevitably dazed by the second-hand smoke of the joint of Matt, I took a shower and went to bed. However, even if I was very tired, I could not get to sleep. After having spent a very long time turning around and around, I took my phone and I began to watch Facebook and Twitter, I had several private messages, but at that time of the night I fancied everything except answering them. I had many thoughts in my mind that I wasn’t able to stop, I was restless. Anyway, after a quarter of an hour or maybe even half an hour, I felt I was finally about to give up, and that my eyes were about to close.
We live most of our dreams with much more intensity then our existence when awake. HERMANN HESSE
Down at the port of San Pedro
on that bench
IT was just a handful of seconds after eleven in the morning, yet it seemed to me an eternity. I felt choked by a sense of insecurity and fear, it made me feel unable to move, even though I was in front of what I considered to be the ultimate expression of freedom and peace, my ocean and my seagulls. One minute past eleven, two minutes past eleven, three minutes past eleven. Nothing. An annoying doubt started to creep in my mind: and what if that situation was wrong? Was I wrong to trust? Suddenly I felt hunted, in danger. It was a very ugly, frightening feeling.
I began to sweat, and to think in a very fast but also confused way about all the things I should have done and that I would not, about my career that I had built so painstakingly and would have nullified, about all the people who believed in me and that I would disappoint, about people I loved and that I would never see again, and about that love, the true love, that I had not lived yet, about the son I had not had yet.
I saw that endless series of images running before my eyes, at an impressive speed. Just a matter of moments, I was thinking, without even knowing why. At a certain point I realized that I was peremptorily refusing the hypothesis that this could be really my end, so I got up from the bench with the intention to go away and turn the page as soon as possible. I was tormented for such a long time about it, but I didn’t want to know anymore. I did not have time to turn myself and go away that I found myself in front of her, little Maggie.
«Damn Maggie, you were going to cause me a heart attack!», I exclaimed.
I must have looked so pale, I was sweating, and all that anxiety had even caused me to be out of breath. In short, I was like crap.
«Hey Alex, what’s wrong? Calm down. Come on, sit down», she told me, taking my right hand.
«What happened to you, are you not feeling well?», she asked me, staring at the sea.
I tried to calm myself down, to think that everything was okay, but that damn doubt was keeping on devouring my mind telling me that I should not be there.
«I’m just a little bit stressed. What about you, how are you?», I asked her, clumsily trying to break that tension.
Despite the fact I had asked her that question, and that she was still holding my hand, Maggie persisted in not looking into my eyes.
After a moment, I broke that heavy silence.
«Now it’s my turn to make you questions. What’s wrong, Maggie? Why don’t you dare to look me in my eyes? Is there something I don’t know that I should know?», I asked her impetuously, raising the tone of my voice.
At that point, some tears began to fall slowly from Maggie’s blue eyes, and once they reached her cheekbones they picked up speed and then got lost in the void, just below her chin.
«Please forgive me, Alex…», she said sobbing and turning to me for the first time.
I had not even time to figure out what the hell was going on, when behind me I heard the typical screech of tires biting the asphalt. I turned quickly. A van with darkened windows, came towards us, slammed on the brakes a few meters near the bench on which we were still sitting. Maggie held my hand tightly.
Four guys, dressed in black from head to foot and with faces covered by a balaclava, came out from the van. They were armed with M4. I tried to pray, but not even a prayer came to my mind. Little Maggie left my hand, and she jumped down the bench, rolling on the ground. I looked up and saw that the men were pointing their M4 against me. Matter of moments, I thought to myself, then I heard the shots. Darkness.
«Hey, Alex, are you feeling ok?».
Opening my eyes, with incredulity, I found myself in bed and not on that bench and, in front of me, there weren’t four armed terrorists with the intent to shoot me, but there was Matt, who had a look that was a middle way between worried and teased. I sat up and I realized to be completely wet, drenched in sweat.
«I had a very strange dream.», I sighed, still groggy.
«I noticed it, my friend, your screams reached my room. Have you dreamt of having sex with Sarah Palin?», he said, trying to joke about it.
«Give it a rest, stop with your stupid jokes. I’m very worried, Matt… I dreamt I was with little Maggie and at some point some hooded dudes arrived, I mean a real commando, do you understand? They had made an agreement with her, and…».
«Yes, bang. They mowed me down.»
«I would say it’s a pretty obvious dream, especially for a politician ready to be re-elected. What surprises me is that little Maggie is still on your mind: fuck, last time you saw her was 1986, how is it possible you are still thinking about her?»
«She called me, Matt!»
«Yesterday, she called me at the Capitol.»
«Really? Why haven’t you told me?»
«Because yesterday night I did not fancy to talk about it. Anyway, the strange thing about that phone call is that Maggie gave me an appointment, in a year.»
«In a year?»
«Exactly. Her words have been ‘I’ll wait for you on that bench, do not ask me explanations, that’s it. You’ll have to be there, no matter what happens’. Crazy, isn’t it?»
«Bloody hell, Alex, this story is disquieting! Dream aside, if I were you I would not ignore it, above all I would inform someone in Washington, it’s for your safety.»
Matt was right, that situation had too many grey areas, and my institutional role required to inform the security authorities. But what I wanted to avoid absolutely was the risk that it could become of public domain.
The representative Anderson haunted by a childhood friend, is she maybe his lover?
I could already imagine the newspapers headlines, and the consequent collapse of consents. In fact, just a slightest thing was enough to subvert the outcome of an election, guess a story through which all media would definitely have fun to create alleged links with love or sex. It would be my end. I needed a person of utmost confidence.
The first name that came to my mind was that of Carl Nowitzki, an old friend of my father, who, among other things, was a member of the National Security Branch, an FBI department specialized in intelligence and counter-terrorism, created in 2005 by President George W. Bush. Yes, he was the right person without any doubt.
I would have called him in the afternoon in order to make an appointment on Monday or, at the latest, on Tuesday. I should not allow to let pass too much time, for any reason in the world.
Thinking about it made me feel better, so I got out of bed and went to look out the window, from which I could enjoy a magnificent view, at which you surely gape. Moreover, that day the sky was so blue that you can not distinguish it from the impressive expanse of water of the ocean, which merged into a wonderful whole. After breakfast and having spent at least ten minutes in the shower, I got ready to go, along with Matt, to my appointment with the Committee of the Veterans of the Navy, which would have been held outdoors, right under the monument of South Harbour Boulevard.
While we were in the car, I realized that I had not yet switched on the ringtone of my phone, so I took it from the inside pocket of my jacket, and I saw that I had received a message on my private email on Facebook. It was Veronica Hayes.
Beautiful day. We all needed it. I was thinking that we are not obliged to wait until Sunday to see each other. We can wait but also not.
Ps: ’97 is the year of that song, years go by so quickly!
Wow, I thought, have you seen what Hayes has done? That message painted a smug grin on my face, which was soon transformed into a hint of laughter, due to the fact that Matt, to whom I imposed to forget that woman just a few hours before, was just sitting right next to me, driving his pick-up.
«What’s the matter, man, why are you laughing?», he asked me in an insolent tone.
«Nothing particular, it’s just some crap that people publish on Facebook».
I did not feel to tell him that Veronica wrote me, at least not yet.
Indeed I’m convinced that it would be perfect to have dinner together in such a beautiful evening…
I sent my reply, instinctively, without thinking about it. My goodness, have I made a bullshit? I wondered for a moment after having pressed “send”. But Veronica’s answer was almost instantaneous.
Is it an invitation?
Yes, I’d say it is.
So I’d say that I accept gladly.
I’m very pleased… … 8.30PM at Fish Market?
8.30PM at Fish Market, that’s perfect.
Great. See you later. Have a nice day!
Have a nice day you too, Alex. See you tonight! ;-)
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