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The Land of Nod | The Nation

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The Land of Nod

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Dieter Countryman had lived a life he'd wanted. Like anyone, he had his regrets, but the pluses overshadowed the less shining examples. At least that was the narrative Countryman had long ago constructed for himself. Early on, duty and honor had sustained him, in those days when he was a greenhorn knee-deep in back-channel bullshit with the contras in Nicaragua--with their orders coming out of the basement in the White House where that chickenbird colonel loved to hole up. That was the time of the fabled Reagan era that delivered body blow after body blow to liberals and their precious ideas like job training for underprivileged knotheads and government monies to keep the nutjobs housed.

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.

Reagan successfully cut those job-training programs, and as the resultant gang problem rose and the crazies were dumped on the streets, he'd bust the air controller's union--themselves a bunch of hard-drinking, golfing goofs until then all for the Gipper--and whip the populace into fear and quiet frenzy about the God-forsaking Russkies and the Red Plague. While First Lady Nancy ran around Just Saying No and calling in her astrologer for late-night readings, as she trusted these charlatans' mumbo-jumbo more than the mumbo-jumbo of polls.

And the chumps voted him in twice. And somewhere along the way duty and honor turned to cold cynicism in Countryman.

Countryman would have laughed, only now it wasn't just the steering wheel shoved into his lower abdomen giving him discomfort. Burning alive was definitely not enjoyable. In these last few moments of his existence, as his flesh sizzled and the flames ate his extremities and his once-cool Bullitt Mustang, his deeds of death haunted his mind. He shuddered and died just seconds before the gas tank erupted. Projectile pieces of his car sheered off shrubbery and were blown into the air, briefly lit by the yellows and oranges of the explosion.

The flash of gas-fueled light illuminated the stern face of the tall man nicknamed Jeff. Dispassionately he watched the car burn from a ridge as he tried again to reach his shorter partner on his cell. Who again didn't pick up. These two didn't use voicemail and swapped out their mobiles for another disposable every six or seven days. Jeff was annoyed but not worried. After all, there had been times when neither of them had picked up. He smiled broadly, recalling the twin hookers at that house of pleasure in Union City. He didn't answer for several hours. But he'd been off the clock. When both were on the job like now, they routinely checked in with each other. He considered this as he slung the rifle on its strap across his back, turning to leave his latest murderous handiwork behind. He paused, adjusting the rifle, and wondered should he be more than annoyed as he hiked back to his car.

Cyrus Kang knew he was in deep, but damned if he knew how to extricate himself. This wasn't like being swept off your board by a big wave. This was like being sucked down by an undertow, aware it was happening, but you had to keep stroking and kicking, praying for that one chance to free yourself. He should have confided in his sister that he and Cenine were a thing, but it was pretty goddamn late to be worried about that. He had more immediate concerns, as he drove his Camaro along the 5 Freeway south heading into Orange County.

The lady in question dozed in the passenger seat, her head leaning against the side window. Cyrus Kang hadn't gotten much out of her. But she had assured Kang that where she'd instructed him to go was the bonanza she'd promised would be theirs, those months ago when they'd first made love, hot and sweaty right in the back seat of this car. She said her husband maintained several stashes of millions in cash around the country in case of an emergency and there was one she knew about in Tustin.

He took a glance at himself in the rearview. All those movies on TCM about the sucker falling for the babe, the dame with the body, the brains and the plan, the man led around by his pecker. That was him now, wasn't it? She played soldier boy, Countryman. He just about fainted that morning when Countryman did the car tag tango with him and Conrad. Figured for sure he was going to pull a piece and bang, settle it--as the late, great Bruce Lee uttered brilliantly in Enter the Dragon. But after nearly making them crash, Countryman only did the stare-down and the threat with his finger mimicking a gun. All that to just so he could fuck with them.

Later Cyrus Kang managed to reach Cenine Gilmore on the sly, and she calmed him down, convincing him that Countryman was in the dark as much as her husband, Mace. That Countryman only knew Kang had worked for his friend Conrad Waller doing their lame undercover bit. Both playing Miami Vice to bust her running an ecstasy dealing network through the Pasta Grotto chain. The two even arguing one night over weed, beer and pizza who was Crockett and who was Tubbs.

Until that hot afternoon in Stockton where Kang was pretending to be a dishwasher at the Pasta Grotto in a newly developed strip mall and Cenine had confronted him right there in the men's room. Worked her voodoo on him slow and easy over the next few weeks. Seeing right into him, how much he wanted to be something, something other than just the kid brother of the oh-so-fabulous Cynthia Kang.

"Shit," he mumbled, shaking his head, but no sense seemed to drop into it, so he drove on, down to the Orange County line and into a cloudy fate.

At his glass and steel desk--modeled on the one used by Objectivist architect Howard Roark in Ayn Rand's The Fountainhead--Mace Gilmore finished the particulars in the arrangement to have his memoirs published at the time of his demise and hung up the phone. Leaning back in his chair, he recalled his conversation with Congresswoman Kang. Very pleasant woman, and he'd enjoyed talking to her, letting her on a hint of his goal of making her into what she was destined to be. Even though she would fight the cosmic plan every step of the way.

He rose to take a look out of his window overlooking West LA and the Pacific not too far away. He breathed in deep, looking out past the skyline. Kilimanjaro. Yes, that's where he'd go to die. Pitch his tent on a higher tier. It was perfect. You didn't need special equipment to ascend its gradual slope, and with the right cocktail of drugs, he could manage the climb.

Behind him was the the soft click of his office door opening. He half-turned his head at the newcomer. "I've been expecting you."

Lacy Mills steeped forward, a small aerosol canister in the hand that she extended.

To Be Continued...

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