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Ceremonies of the Strange | The Nation

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Ceremonies of the Strange

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"Sorry, Cynthia," Desdemona Valdez said, "but like I said, there's no way I have enough chits with any of the Vegas PD to get them to hunt down young Mister Waller. I did try though."

About the Author

Gary Phillips
Gary Phillips's short stories have appeared, most recently, in Los Angeles Noir (Akashic) and in Full House (G.P....

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In this last episode we mostly wrap things up, but leave a few strange matters for earthly or cosmic interpretation.

Breakfast turns violent, more is revealed, and while a decent president gets elected, there's no rest for Congresswoman Kang.

"I appreciate that," Congresswoman Kang answered. She walked past a group of people queuing up for a jazz club where Little Jimmy Scott was gigging. "Maybe when I get back to town you might have time for coffee."

"That the best you can do to show your appreciation?"

She smiled. "I'm not sure I understand your meaning, officer."

"I'll make it clear when you're back. Which is when?"

"Friday, late," Kang said. Wilson Pickett singing "In the Midnight Hour" sprang into her head.

"Call me before you're in the air."

"You won't be... engaged?"

"Just call."

"I will, Des."

The detective didn't speak, but listened to the other woman's breathing and footfalls. Then, "What kind of trouble do you think Grish's son is in? I take it you know the older woman he was arguing with?"

"Long story, and really, I'm not sure what the hell's going on with Connie. I badly need to talk to him and for all I know, that dramatic hang-up of the phone was staged." Kang had tried calling him back and the number was out of service. "But there's no way for me to get to Vegas. Though I might have an idea that could work. Somebody I know in town there. Be safe, okay?"

"Until I see you at least."

They laughed and Kang ducked into a bar and restaurant called the Derek Flint to get a brandy and search her address book on her cell for a certain phone number. All about her the nightlife in the gentrifying Logan Circle area was pulsing. Once a solid black neighborhood, where Edward Kennedy "Duke" Ellington was born, the riots and their result tore the neighborhood apart on the evening of Martin Luther King Jr.'s assassination in Memphis on April 4, 1968. As word spread across the country, Kwame Ture, then called Stokely Carmichael, a Howard University grad and civil rights lightning rod, addressed fellow members of the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee (SNCC) around 8:30 that night.

According to what Kang read in Carmichael's book, Ready for Revolution, "They took our leader off, so out of respect, we're going to ask all these goddamn stores to close down until he is laid to rest." Carmichael had broken with King over the nonviolence question two years before.

Some contended as Carmichael and the SNCC members marched along the streets, gathering the angry, grief-stricken residents as they went, that this was the match struck to the gas-soaked kindling. Others, Carmichael included, maintained he was in no way responsible for the ensuing conflagration. As some thirty cities would experience the flame, a frustrated answer to the murderous injustice visited on the Messenger, the fellaheen were going to have their say in the only way they could.

Good thing, Kang reflected, having some of her VSOP, then Mayor-Commissioner Walter Washington didn't listen to that maniac Hoover and order the rioters shot. How tragically ironic would that have been? Taking the counsel of the bulldog cross-dressing head of the FBI, the architect of COINTELPRO, the agent provocateur slash psy-ops initiative designed to destroy King--and that might well have literally.

Shifting her conspiracy theories into the crosshairs of a modern lens, Kang completed her call. "Hey, McNair," she said when the man on the other end answered, coughing and hacking what she knew to be alcohol-flavored phlegm. "How busy are you in the next few days?"

"Who this?"

"CK, fool." She sipped, sitting at the bar, ignoring the fish eye she got from a big-bellied man squeezing past the back of her high-backed stool. She ID'd him as one of the myriad lobbyists for Big Tobacco. In particular, she'd clowned him recently when he'd come to her office. He'd tried to convince Kang to give her stamp of approval to a philanthropy funded by a minuscule portion of tobacco profits. This entity was designed to give monies for at-risk youth programs, but Kang told him they'd have to find someone else to pimp--well, she did say tout--their supposed good-corporate-citizen image.

"Damn, woman, ah, Congressperson, what you want?' McNair was a jackleg Mormon, UFO adherent, collector of all that was Mort Sahl and documentary fillmmaker when he wasn't on duty as a chef at the Double Nukes, a downscale topless bar and casino in Vegas's Glitter Gulch. He was a loyal member of the culinary workers union and Kang had first met him at an organized labor convention.

"Got something interesting for you to look into. It involves money, corruption and ex-cheerleaders." She winced. "You're not rubbing your crotch are you?"

He laughed uproariously, hacked up something else from his lung, and cleared his throat. "Go on."

She told him some of the details, emphasizing the sensational aspects, which wasn't hard.

"Basically, then," she heard him inhale on one of his unfiltered Camel cigarettes, "you want me to locate the son first."

"Come on, McNair, you telling me this isn't a juicy story? Money, greed, corruption, drugs and, well, the rest." She'd left out the shotgun attack on Kimbrough. She didn't want to scare him, but was that being fair to him?

"There may be something to it," he admitted. "But I've got two turnarounds coming to the casino so working double shifts till Thursday."

"But you'll look into it, yeah? And you could call around now about Connie."

She could hear him blow smoke. "I could."

"Then let me be perfectly honest," she said.

"That would be refreshing, Mrs. Clinton," he smirked.

She told him about the attack on her chief of staff. "So be cool, huh? No daredeviling."

"Wouldn't think of it. 'Course you realize you're bugged, don't you?" He said matter-of-factly.

She waved off a refill on her drink. "Don't be daft, son."

"From all that you've said, CK, these folks have those resources at hand and would be using them."

He gave her the name of someone who would check and she gave him the cell number for Conrad Waller.

Off the phone and heading back out, Kang heavily considered that McNair wasn't being paranoid. As she stepped off the sidewalk, the toe of her Miu Miu suede boot landed on a soggy flyer in the gutter, and its glaring colors drew her attention. It proclaimed that the recent visit of Pope Benedict XVI to Nationals Stadium for his mass to the masses was part of the long-unfolding Masonic plan to re-establish dominance of American politics--the pontiff as wingman. The names of several public figures were also on the flyer, designated as part of this effort, including Mace Gilmore.

In a disturbing dream later in bed, Kang witnessed Gilmore, Countryman with headphones on and her fifth grade social studies teacher whom she never liked, at a Satanic ceremony in a secret chamber below the Washington Monument. She could see all this because she was the one strapped to their stone altar, about to be sacrificed.

To Be Continued...

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