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1979 Crown Publishers Alongside Night Cover


Alongside Night
A Novel by J. Neil Schulman
Chapter 21


Auld Lang Syne smelt of wet plaster and birchwood smoke.

After Moose had bid them good-bye at the West Side Heliport, Elliot and Lorimer were met by the peak-capped, sunglassed pilot of a private helicopter with corporate markings, examined for bugs, blindfolded by helmets as secure as chastity belts, and flown for just under an hour to parts unknown. Elliot, who loved any flying and had never been up in a helicopter, was heartbroken. A stomach-raising descent, the feel of terra firma as rotors slowed to silence, and a brief, sightless walk being pulled along through icy wind brought them inside again.

The odors of plaster and smoke were their first perceptions of this agorist underground, though they appreciated later ones more: the sound of a crackling log fire and its radiant warmth. When their blinders were finally removed, Elliot and Lorimer were inside a furniture-bare terminal, alone facing Chin’s smiling face.

As they warmed chilled ears and fingers by the fireplace, Chin explained that though Auld Lang Syne had been built as a replacement for Aurora — scheduled for abandonment by June in any event — the raid had rushed things a bit. Nothing serious, of course, but damnably inconvenient. Personnel from Aurora were moved in and some final installations were being made, but the facility was not yet operational. Though, Chin added cryptically, it might never be necessary to open Auld Lang Syne at all.

Chin went on to give Elliot and Lorimer their first overview of Cadre activities. The Revolutionary Agorist Cadre, he said, comprised three main operating arms.

TacStrike was agorist guerrilla forces, elite veterans of civil wars, revolutions, and “national liberations” throughout the globe. It was nearly impossible to compare it with other forces except by implication. Cadre never fought openly, never claimed victories, and had no television series extolling their exploits. When they died, they died anonymously. Both the United States government and the Cadre had vested interests in keeping it generally unknown how strong the Cadre actually were and how far was their reach.

IntellSec was the agorist entry into the intelligence community, though without the restrictions that supposedly limited the FBI to domestic affairs, the DIA to military, and the CIA to foreign. Chin admitted that his first Cadre employment had been in Hong Kong for IntellSec.

TransComm, both the earliest and largest division, was responsible for providing Cadre allies with a wide range of transportation, courier, and communications services secure from invasion.

The network of Agorist undergrounds was TransComm-operated.

Normal trading-facility security procedures had not yet been set up. There were merely a few extra Cadre guards — armed with M-21′s — on duty. Hammers and nails were in use only a few feet away from the rough-hewn security room that Chin led Elliot and Lorimer to. Commandant Welch was in charge.

Lorimer stepped forward. “I owe you an apology for Saturday,” she told Welch. “I had no right pulling a gun on you, and was wrong when I called you a statist.”

Elliot glanced over to her, shocked.

Welch seemed embarrassed. “Uh — you don’t have to do that. l guess I had it coming. I haven’t gotten it through my skull yet that I’m not a Chicago cop anymore.”

Chin asked Lorimer, “You have no complaint now about this commandant’s treatment of you?”

“Well,” she said, “I still don’t like being told where I can go and who with. But I suppose that’s what I’d agreed to.”

He faced Elliot. “No complaint.”

“Very well.” Chin turned to the commandant. “Mr. Welch, I’ll withdraw my report and recommend that your fine be retuned. But for pity’s sake let’s not have an incident like this again. There’s an old expression never heard anymore: ‘The customer is always right.’ Public relations demands we act upon it, even though it’s abject nonsense.”

“I understand. And thank you.”

“All right. Let’s bury the matter.”

Chin produced a photo badge, handing it to Welch, who inserted it into a desk console and pressed a button twice. A concealed wall panel slid open, revealing a corridor. After reclaiming his badge, Chin led Elliot and Lorimer several hundred feet to a steel door. He inserted his badge, and it slid open.

Beyond the door was the yet unfurnished anteroom to a suite of offices. Jack Guerdon was kneeling on the floor, installing a carpet.

Chin cleared his throat. Guerdon looked up, noting their presence and Chin’s expression of disapproval. Clapping the dust off his hands, Guerdon stood up. “Now, Major Chin, you know it’s the only relaxation I get.”

“I wasn’t criticizing, sir,” Chin replied. “But there are others who . . .”

Guerdon furrowed his brow slightly.

Chin shrugged resignedly. “Perhaps it’s time for proper introductions?” he offered. Guerdon nodded. “Mr. Vreeland, Ms. Powers, may I present General Jack Guerdon, Supreme Commander of the Cadre’s TacStrike forces.”

For the second time upon meeting Guerdon, Elliot’s eyes widened. “Uh– I thought you ran a construction company . . . sir?”

Guerdon grinned. “I do. The general’s job is only part time.”

“The general is much too modest,” said Chin. “First tour of duty in Vietnam, 1965. Trained for and made the Green Berets, three more tours of Indochinese duty, returning the last time as a major — brevet, later confirmed. After the war, transferred to the Corps of Engineers, retiring as a full colonel. Awarded the Purple Heart with bronze cluster, Bronze Star, Silver Star, Legion of Merit — ”

“That’s quite enough, Major,” Guerdon said in a low voice.

Chin looked sheepish. “Sorry, sir.”

Lorimer dimpled slightly. “I hope you won’t take this the wrong way, General,” she asked, “but do your men ever call you Black Jack?”

Guerdon chuckled resonantly. “Some of them, no doubt . . . but in the original moniker given to Pershing. Major, what am I being called lately?”

“Sir?”

“Not the vulgar version, son.”

Chin smiled slightly. “Well, I have heard one of the men refer to you as One-Eyed Jack, sir.”

Jack Guerdon snorted. “I must be too easy on them.”

The four removed into an inner office that Guerdon had commandeered, the only completely outfitted one in the suite, and settled comfortably around a conference table with computer stations at each place. Before getting down to business, Chin provided mugs of too-hot, too-bitter coffee from a standard-issue military urn.

Chin removed Elliot’s telephone key from a pocket (it had been confiscated by the pilot during the preflight search) and handed it to Guerdon, who examined it briefly, then placed it on the table. Elliot stirred dry creamer into his coffee, looking at the two Cadre officers expectantly. Guerdon asked, “Would you tell us where you got this?”

“Sure,” Elliot said, hooking his thumb toward Lorimer. “From her father.”

Guerdon looked to Lorimer. She nodded.

“You don’t have to worry, though,” Elliot continued. “He didn’t exactly give it to me of his own free will.”

“I wouldn’t have expected so,” said Guerdon. “How did the opportunity arise?”

“It arose when Lor –Deanne, I mean — ”

“I prefer Lor,” said Lorimer.

“. . . when Lor got the drop on her father when he walked into my father’s hotel room.”

Guerdon’s eyebrows rose.

Elliot nodded. “It gets rather involved, but what Lor and I agreed before that we should tell you is that my father is going to rise from the grave in a few days. This time as a friend of the Administration. What the Administration gets out of it is gold-backed money courtesy of a loan from EUCOMTO — with my father as the loan’s cosignatory. What my father gets out of it are the promises of my mother and sister back . . . and the job of U.S. economic czar. What you get out of it is the shaft.”

“When you called us,” Chin asked, “you were calling to tell us where they are so we could intervene?”

Elliot shook his head. “Not that it makes any difference. They’re probably long gone by now.”

“Then what were you calling us about?”

“I could ask you the same question.”

“Let’s not fence,” Guerdon said. “I suspect we both want the same thing.” He turned to Chin. “Major?”

Chin punched a series of codes into his computer station for a few moments. A document with FBI imprimatur appeared on each of their displays. “This was on the thirty-second roll of microfilm you gave us,” he told Lorimer. “Examine it carefully, both of you.”

On the display document — titled “For Further Investigation” — were hundreds of names, neatly printed out in alphabetical order. Elliot recognized many as belonging to students and faculty associated with Ansonia Preparatory School and sometimes their families.

Further down on the display was a somewhat shorter list marked “For Immediate Disposition.” Among the names he recognized were his own — and those of his parents and sister — Phillip Gross, and his uncle, Benjamin Harper, and Ansonia’s headmistress, Dr. Maureen Fischer.

“This is a partial list,” Guerdon explained, “of those secretly to be arrested this past weekend and sent to the FBI prison code — named Utopia. Major?” Chin punched a new series in; another document, dated February 24, was displayed. “This one Ms. Powers obviously couldn’t have brought us. We intercepted it through normal channels.”

The document was a top-secret FBI dispatch to all field offices, informing them that Deanne Powers was to be arrested without warrant and transported to Utopia for interrogation. It was signed by Lawrence Powers.

Guerdon looked at Lorimer sympathetically. She shrugged and replied, “I’m not at all surprised.”

“That first arrest list,” Elliot asked. “What happened to them?”

“We managed to notify many . . . and got them safely underground.”

“Phillip Gross and his uncle?”

Guerdon shook his head sadly.

“They’re both in Utopia?”

“Phillip is imprisoned there. Morris Gross is dead.”

His second-worst fears about Phillip confirmed, Elliot was deeply saddened to have his worst confirmed about the vibrantly alive man who had befriended him. “They killed him?”

“He suicided.” Guerdon paused an instant, then added, “As my TacStrike chief of staff, General Gross simply knew too much to allow himself to be captured.”

“I see.” Elliot stared down at his coffee for a few seconds, then looked up at Chin. “Why bring us here, now? The last you told me, you people were claiming a raid on that prison wasn’t possible.”

“‘Removal not now possible,’ I believe that phrase was,” said Chin. “I programmed that myself last Saturday. But that was before we’d had a chance to inspect fully the microfilm Lorimer brought us.”

Chin typed in still new codes. A moving sequence of documents — floor plans, written descriptions, and schematic diagrams — appeared on their displays. “This was on the forty-third roll of FBI microfilm,” he continued. “The complete layout, specifications, codes, and operating procedures of the FBI prison.”

“We are now ready to raid Utopia,” said Guerdon. “We need the two of you to help us.”

Elliot was slightly taken aback. Though he had fantasized the possibility of heroically rescuing his family from that prison, he had never taken the possibility of a chance seriously.

Lorimer took the announcement completely in her stride.

“Us?” asked Elliot. “Sure, I’d love a crack at it, but we’re grass green, both of us. You must have better trained — ”

“If it were merely a military operation,” Guerdon interrupted, “we could have moved against the prison months ago. But a raid-in-force is precisely what Utopia is designed against. We need two people whose names are on the arrest list . . . who are not already captured . . . or dead . . . who are allied with us . . . who are not carrying secrets we can’t afford to lose . . . and who are unlikely to crack under fire.”

“It all sounds great,” Elliot said, “except for that last part.”

“Don’t run yourself down, son. I have seen psychometric profiles for each of you. Do you help us, or not?”

Elliot thought about it. Even if his mother and sister were to be freed anyway a point he did not trust Powers on at all — and his main reason for calling the Cadre — Phillip was in there. Phillip, who, when asked for help, had simply said, “Of course. What do you want me to do?”

The decision took only split seconds. “Sure,” he answered offhandedly.

“Ms. Powers?”

“When do we leave?”

Elliot smiled at her. An eternal yea.

“Get a quick bite to eat,” said Guerdon. “We’ll be out of here the next hour.”

In a private moment in the anteroom, while Chin and Guerdon were still conferring, Elliot asked Lorimer why she had volunteered. “Three reasons,” she explained. “One. If I decide to make a career with the Cadre, this will look good on my application. Two. I can’t think of anything that would make my father burn more. And three. I’m going along to make certain you don’t get your ass shot off.”

The commissary was not completely finished, but the kitchen was operational. While there were no allies other than Elliot and Lorimer in Auld Lang Syne, work crews and Cadre had almost filled the dining area. But at the moment they were not there only for the food.

Almost everyone in Auld Lang Syne at the time, approaching a hundred people — some with dinners, some without — was seated facing six temporary wall screens.

The first screen displayed a computer-generated map of the United States, with almost ten thousand dotted red lights on it, clustering around densely populated areas but covering almost every human habitation in the country. Each dot represented a radio or television station.

The other five wall screens were each carrying the signal of a major American network — television broadcasts (subject to censorship) of normal prime-time programming. Highest rated of the five programs, sandwiched in between a serial drama and a situation comedy, was We, the Jury, a program combining elements of an actual court trial, a game show, and an actual execution. (The rumors that producers had signed convicts willing to be executed for spin-offs were almost completely untrue.)

The commissary was humming with whispered conversations and a sense of rising expectancy as Chin led Elliot and Lorimer in. “What’s going on?” Lorimer asked Chin.

“You’ll see in a few minutes.”

The three were near the end of the food line when a huge cheer went up in the chamber. Dozens of red lights on the electronic map had suddenly turned green, the lights changing like dominoes falling into each other, or as if the map was following the progress of an accelerated hurricane dancing across the country. Within a minute, there was not a single red light on the screen.

A second cheer went up as one of the wall screens interrupted its broadcast — a symphony concert — with a notice reading: “MBS SPECIAL NEWS BULLETIN.”

News? thought Elliot. But no news was being permitted …

A man near the screens turned up the accompanying sound, “–rupt our regularly scheduled programming to bring you a special news bulletin. Reporting to you from our Mutual News Headquarters in New York is Phyllis Breskin.”

A middle-aged but still-handsome newswoman appeared on the screen. “Good evening,” she said in the industry’s standard Oxonian tones. “Since early this morning, MBS News has been off the air in accordance with the official procedures of the Emergency Broadcast System. Our network, however, was instructed not to broadcast an Emergency Action Notification.

“A few moments ago, our Broadcast Command Center in New York received an official release allowing us to resume our normal news operations. We therefore bring you this special update . . .”

Several of the other wall screens were now carrying the news bulletins of other networks.

A newsman on the Pacifica System was saying, “. . . morning at its trading session in Paris, the EUCOMTO announced that, in a closed session Saturday evening, it was voted to stop accepting the American New Dollar in exchange for eurofrancs. In making the announcement, Chancellor Deak stated that this had been necessary to protect European consumers from the effects of American political instability. He used, as an example, last Thursday’s New York demonstration by Citizens for a Free Society that ended in a riot.”

Elliot, in progress with his food tray to a table, barely managed to avoid spilling minestrone as he heard the results of the riot he had accidentally started. A history lesson from his junior year flashed through his mind, as he remembered the young Gavrilo Princip who, by the assassination of Archduke Francis Ferdinand and his consort, started the chain of events that had led to the First World War.

Another network newsman: “. . . prompt move to prevent this news from reaching the American public, where it was feared an immediate monetary collapse would trigger financial chaos, at 4:10 A.M. E.T., the President of the United States declared a state of national emergency, ordering all mass communications media to cease . . .”

“The Emergency Broadcast System never sent out a release, did it?” Elliot asked Chin.

Chin shook his head.

“Wasn’t that obvious?” Lorimer asked Elliot. “Everyone here was waiting for this.”

They found an unoccupied table. “Then how did you manage — ?” Elliot asked, setting down his tray.

Chin smiled. “Believe me,” he replied, “you’re not the only person asking that at the moment.”

#

Next in Alongside Night is Chapter XXII.

Alongside Night is
Copyright © 1979 J. Neil Schulman &
Copyright © 2010 The J. Neil Schulman Living Trust.
All rights reserved.




Now in production: Alongside Night. Look for it in 2013!

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