aleph symbol with title UNSONG

Chapter 53: Lover Of Wild Rebellion

Morning, May 13, 2017
New York City

Alvarez’s apartment was so packed with books, bomb-making supplies, and extra people that somebody had to sleep in the closet. Erica had volunteered. She figured the former Lord High Magician of the Midwest deserved the sofa more than she did. Any sacrifice for the Revolution.

Knock knock. Erica rubbed her eyes and opened the door. Light streamed in from outside.

“Can I come in?” asked Mark McCarthy.

“In the closet?”

“Yeah.”

Erica sat up and shrugged. The older man closed the door, turned on the light, and sat down beside her. He had to almost contort himself not to touch her, not to give any hint of impropriety.

“Why are you in here?” asked Erica.

“Want to talk,” he said. “Where he can’t hear us.”

She thought, then nodded.

“Wait, can he hear us? That thing with your mind…”

“Doesn’t do anything unless I’m sending it at him. I think. Still new to this. What’s the problem?”

Mark sighed. “Look. I’m doing this because I promised, because it’s his condition for springing me out of prison. Which he got me into. But you could just go invisible right now, vanish, never see him again. Listen. I know he’s charming, I know he’s fascinating, heck, I spent my college years getting caught up in one of his hare-brained schemes after another, but listen, Erica, all that stuff about Mexico, it’s total lies, for all I know he grew up third-generation immigrant in the States. There’s no reason. He doesn’t care. He’s a narcissist, he’s a psychopath, at the bottom of all the flowery words and wisecracks there’s nothing there, just blankness. If you stick with him he’ll grind you up and use you in some way that looks hilarious from the outside but will leave you dead or broken. You should never have linked your mind to him, you should never have come here, but please, listen to me, it’s not too late for you to get out.”

Erica rubbed her eyes. “I just woke up,” she protested.

“I shouldn’t have tried to do this,” said Mark. He started to get up. Erica put a hand on his knee. He sat back down again.

“I don’t know Dylan,” Erica said. Not in the way you would say ‘I don’t know that man over by the corner,’ but in the way a stoner might say ‘I don’t know my own hand, like, not really.’ “I’m not doing this for Dylan. I’m doing it for me.”

“You think you’re doing it for you,” Mark said. “He’s like a black hole. Everything ends up in his orbit eventually.”

“No,” she said a little more forcefully. “You’re thinking I’m this small-town girl who’s arrived in the big city and is too innocent to know how much danger she’s in. And yeah, I never did anything more radical than edit a newspaper before. But I spent my whole life waiting for a revolution, and I’m getting tired of waiting. When I was little, I read William Blake, and he said that all things that can be annhilated must be annhilated so that the children of Jerusalem can be saved from slavery. Then I read Marx and he said the same thing. Then I read Stevens and he said it too. So yeah. I’m dumb. I’m new to all this. I’m not safe here. But I’m in my element. And I’m having fun. I feel like Abraham, smashing the idols.”

“Smashing idols? Abraham was only comfortable smashing the idols because he knew there was a true God hidden behind them waiting to take over.”

“Isn’t there?”

“Rise and shine, lovebirds!” Dylan Alvarez said, flinging open the closet door. “We’re having a breakfast meeting in the living room. Everyone’s there! Absolutely not to be missed!”

Exchanging awkward glances, the two of them made their way into the kitchen.

“May I present,” Dylan declared to the faces seated around the room – some on couches, some on chairs, the overflow on the floor – “the two newest members of BOOJUM. Ms. Erica Lowry, and Lord High Magician Mark McCarthy.”

Several terrorists applauded politely.

“And I’m sure the newcomers must be waiting to know who all of you grizzled veterans are! Names known to legend! This man here on my right side is the incomparable Clark Deas, my trusted lieutenant. Comes to us all the way from Ireland, where he used to engage in ‘republican activity’ up in the parts where that means something a little more decisive than voting. Had his own splinter group for a while, the Deas IRA, which like all good splinter groups spent 95% of the time fighting people on its own side and the other 5% catching unrelated people in crossfires. With His Majesty’s finest breathing down his back, he joined millions of his countrymen in crossing the Atlantic to a promised land of wealth and freedom where all the policemen are blind and deaf and the streets are paved with plastic explosives.”

“Total fecking lies,” Clark said cheerfully. Erica giggled.

“The lovely ladies on your left,” continued Dylan, “are the Burns sisters. Started off as cat burglars. Whenever Lydia here would be arrested, she’d have an ironclad alibi. Finally some enterprising prosecutor realized she was using the oldest trick in the book – the old identical twin switcheroo. So in front of a packed courtroom, he declared he’d solved the mystery – it was her twin, Brenda, who had the alibi, and Lydia had been criming it up in the mansions of Long Island’s rich and famous. Broke his heart when Brenda also had an ironclad alibi for the same night. I almost feel bad for him. Honestly, what are the odds that a set of identical triplets would go into crime?”

Erica couldn’t stop giggling now.

“Mr. Brian Young,” Dylan moved on. “A graduate of the fine people at the Stanford chemistry department. Gandhi said ‘be the change you wish to see in the world’, and Mr. Young decided that he wished for a world with more loud noises and piles of rubble.

“And who could forget Mr. Michael Khan, our Lebanese computer whiz kid. Best known for redirecting all emails from an online dating advice columnist to the Director of the CIA and vice versa. I hear young ladies asking what to do about insensitive boyfriends were given solutions involving cluster bombs, and H. W. Bush got told to sort out his problems with Saddam over a nice candlelit dinner while wearing something sexy – both of which worked wonders, by the way. Now he’s moved on to bigger and better things. The Bush assassination? That was me, Mike, and a whole fridge full of energy drinks.

“On the comfy chair we have Mr. John Murran, the ex-Secret Service man. You know he was there when Hinckley shot Reagan at point-blank range, and watched the bullet go right through the Gipper without even making him blink? True! Then he started saying crazy things like that the Secret Service protected the President from the people, but where was the organization to protect the people from the President. Well, you start speaking like that, they sentence you to thirty years in the can – I mean, the time he grabbed the President, yelling that he was going to find and erase the kabbalistic rune that bound his life-force to his material body didn’t help. As far as anyone knows he died in there. Anyone but us!”

Murran stared at them impassively through his dark sunglasses.

“What about Magdebuena?” asked Lydia Burns. “Where’s he today?”

“Standing right behind you,” said Alvarez.

Burns turned around, then jumped and gave a little shriek. Magdebuena grinned disconcertingly.

“Mr. Magdebuena, born to a Nigerian animist couple working for a multinational in the Israel-Palestine Anomaly. The Anomaly knows how to treat Jews, knows how to treat Muslims, even has some fail-safes for Christians and Hindus and atheists. But it was completely confused by a Nigerian animist, deposited him unceremoniously between planes, and ever since he’s had a complicated relationship with the spatial dimensions which we are happy to exploit for our own sinister purposes.”

“Well, if that’s all over,” Clark began.

“Oh no,” said Dylan. “Introduce me!”

“First of all, we all know you,” said Clark, “and second, if I were to introduce you, you’d…”

“Not you,” he snapped. “You. McCarthy.”

McCarthy’s expression was hard to read, but a careful observer might have noticed him very slightly clenching one fist. Finally he said, “Mr. Dylan Alvarez. On our first day of college, he hung up a big poster in our dorm room that said COMFORT THE AFFLICTED AND AFFLICT THE COMFORTABLE – ”

Dylan beamed.

” – and since then it’s been twenty years and I have never once seen him comfort the afflicted.”

“Comforting the afflicted sounds super boring,” Dylan said. “This is why the Sumerians invented specialization of labor. We know what we’re good at. Which brings me to our next point. We are going to assassinate Malia Ngo.”

He listened for questions or objections. There were none.

“We’ve had a good couple of days. Ms. Lowry here has given us a very new Name, so new the Shroudies don’t know it exists, that lets us become invisible. Mr. McCarthy here is one of the top ritual magicians in the world and will be a stupendous boon to our efforts. So I decided – why not think big? We’ve already killed a president; killing another would be boring. But Ms. Lowry’s sudden appearance has me feeling all Stevensite. So let’s kill the head of UNSONG, who also happens to be the only halfway-competent leader the organization has had in its twenty-something-year history. Let’s free the Names.”

“How are we going to get into the UN?” asked Brenda Burns. “That place is heavily guarded day and night.”

“We are BOOJUM,” Dylan said. “Our specialty is making people softly and suddenly vanish away. This really shouldn’t be too hard. A nice stroll through some corridors, then bang bang, then get out.”

“I heard Ngo has freaky mind powers,” said Khan. “Everyone’s scared of her.”

“That is why we have a Lord High Magician with us, Mr. Khan. We are getting some freaky powers of our own. I do not have the slightest idea what is wrong with Ms. Ngo, but I have confidence in Mr. McCarthy to determine a good way to neutralize it.”

“What do we do after we’re done?” asked Young. “Leave New York?”

“I’m sick of New York,” Dylan said. “We’ve been here, what, three months now? If I never see another cockroach again, it will be too soon. Let’s go to Florida. Lots of things to bomb in Florida.”

“Like what?”

“Beaches, cocktail bars, pretty girls. But that’s for later! Now we need to talk about who’s coming on the Ngo mission. McCarthy, you’re coming. Young, you stay. Clark, I can’t get rid of you. Brenda, you’re coming. Lydia and Norma, you’re too old and too young, respectively.”

“We were born six minutes apart!”

“See, practically a grandmother. Khan, you stay here. Murran, you’re staying. Erica, you’re coming.”

“Hold on a bloody minute,” said Clark. “Why are we leaving Murran behind? That guy could hit a rat from fifty yards away.”

“This is Manhattan,” said Dylan. “You’re never fifty yards away from a rat. And breaking into an international organization is a delicate endeavour. We can’t bring along an entire expedition.”

“If you’re worried about numbers,” said Clark, “take Murran and drop Lowry. The girl gave us invisibility. I get that. It’s great. But she’s of no help on a mission like this.”

“On the contrary,” said Dylan. “Erica has to be the one to fire the killing shot.”

“What?” asked Erica, at the same time Clark and Brian asked “What?”

“It’s simple,” said Dylan. “Erica, what’s your name?”

“Erica,” said Erica.

“No no no no no. Say it in a complete sentence.”

“My name is Erica.”

“No no no, wrong! Say ‘I am Erica.'”

“Uh…I am Erica.”

“Perfect!” said Dylan. “You hear it? America! This is our narrative! I can’t be the one to do the deed. Soy un Mexicano. But her? She has America right in her name! This is how we’re going to do it. We, the lovable terrorists of BOOJUM, are not going to kill Ms. Ngo. America is going to kill Ms. Ngo. This will be true literally, symbolically, kabbalistically, placebomantically, and several other ways-ically. That is how everyone needs to understand it. America started UNSONG. And America is going to end it, and let nobody call it unjust. This is why we fight!”

A few cheers. Clark rolled his eyes. Mark McCarthy mouthed He’s crazy at Erica, who carefully ignored him.

“Now,” said Dylan, “everybody who’ll be participating, get something to eat, catch up on your sleep, call your parents. Tomorrow we fight. But tonight…tonight is our last day in New York. Tonight, we are going to Broadway!”

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